The Song That Changed Your Life

I found out today that a story I wrote made the short list in a CBC writing contest:

I wrote it quickly and submitted it before I went on vacation and while I’m glad it made the short list, I wish I took more time to make it better. 400 words isn’t a lot of space (I still think those 400 words are better than the terrible 500 page coming-of-age novel I wrote based on the same events that will never see the light of day) but I feel some of the other entries really capitalized on it.

I wish I could have explained how that summer fundamentally changed the course of the rest of my life.

In 1990, some friends talked me into joining the Reserves after high school.  Two of them got trips to Europe as graduation presents and the third failed the physical so I went to Boot Camp in Petawawa alone.

The recruits fell into four categories: (1) recent immigrants (2) clean-cut, career minded types that seemed like they’d either end up in politics or as real-life versions of action movie stars (3) every other jock and bully from every other high school across Ontario and (4) me.

It was in Petawawa that I learned to love running. It was the one thing I did well (excelling in the classroom counted for as much, socially, there as in high school). The morning runs broke many of the bigger, burlier guys, sent them to the infirmary with chaffed thighs before sending them packing because they couldn’t take it. The morning runs past serene lakes and through calm forests were the highlight of my day. One recruit, a Trinidadian man named Castillo (we only knew each other by last name), was a marathon runner and after a gruelling day he’d go out and run another 10 k at night. I would join him for part of the run and then took some time to be alone and enjoy nature. Besides my walkman and my books, it was all I had. The outdoors, which I had hated as a kid, became my solace.

That summer changed me. I stayed in the Reserves for almost 4 years. It allowed me to finish university with a very manageable level of student debt. Without the things I learned there about the outdoors and survival, I surely never would have become a geologist and never would have had the opportunities to travel and work in so many amazing places.

I still remember being a boy forced to become a man. I did a lot of cool things and saw some pretty terrible things too. And I also remember hooking up my VCR to my stereo and transferring Morrissey’s Live In Dallas onto cassette and listening to it night after night on my Walkman.


2 thoughts on “The Song That Changed Your Life

  1. I feel the same way about running in Senegal, and I can relate with your marathon runner friend Castillo. After a day of walking around up and down hills mapping the Senegalese bush. A good 10 k jog really helps clear your mind. Though, I’m not doing it at a marathon runner pace and I don’t always run 10 km either.

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