My Friend Henry

It was a pretty normal night hanging out at 'The Curb' as it was known in Heart Lake. The parking lot area behind Canadian Tire in the Heart Lake Town Centre was home to the skateboard culture of Heart Lake throughout my years of high school during the warmer months. It was affectionately known as "The Curb" because of the long curb that we spent time waxing, the skaters spent time grinding and the onlookers spent time sitting on.

It was getting darker on this particular evening, the skating had mostly stopped and there were fewer of us left, just hanging out, chatting, some drinking and smoking pot I'm sure as was a pretty normal part of evenings around Heart Lake. I was chatting with Henry who asked if I wanted to go for a walk. That was cool with me and we headed down the path that lead to Loafer's Lake.

It became clear that Henry wanted to go for a walk for a reason. He had some stuff on his mind and he wanted a more secluded setting to talk. We both started opening up about stuff in our lives and the way we feel. This was a pretty uncommon experience for me at the time. While I was very used to hanging out with my friends, a lot of fun, a lot of laughter, I was not used to conversations with friends about our dreams, our fears, the things that we love, the things in our lives that worry us or fill us with sadness.

Henry and my friendship started as an nameless relationship of common interest. To me he was just this kids with long blond hair who I could bum smokes off of and who would bum smokes off of me. We would pass each other in the neighbourhood and it seemed like every time one of us would want a smoke and the other one would have some.

"Yo man, you got an extra cigarette?"

"Ya bro, here you go!"


This was basically the extent of our relationship for maybe a year and a half before mutual friends led to us hanging out regularly in the same group of friends.

Friends... I talk about that word a lot when I speak with different groups. Basically my understanding of that word now means this when I think of Henry. We weren't really friends until that night, walking around the lake. Sharing hopes, fears, dreams, sorrows... if you can't do that with someone, without fear of judgement or ridicule, it isn't friendship.

I think a lot of this comes down to our concept of STRENGTH. In most relationships we try to maintain the image and appearance of strength, we don't share the stuff that's going on in our lives, in our hearts and minds that we are struggling with. That stuff makes us look WEAK, especially in male friendships, there is often no room for that. I remember bringing up some hard stuff with a friend once who basically said, "We don't talk about that stuff".... I knew then that I didn't really have a friend there.

The reason we maintain the image of strength is really because of FEAR. Fear that we will be ridiculed, judged, rejected and fear that confidentiality will be breached. It is in WEAK relationships that we feel we always need to be STRONG. It is only in STRONG friendships and relationships that we get permission and freedom to be WEAK. That is what happened between Henry and myself. One night created a safe space to be weak and immediately a strength developed in our relationship that wasn't there before.

Unfortunately  some drinking and smoking pot at The Curb is not where it stayed of Henry (as with many of  my friends and the majority of youth who start smoking pot at a young age... statistics not philosophy). As I left for University Henry was getting into stronger narcotic substances. I would come home and connect with friends many weekends. I remember vividly walking through the Town Centre and watching Henry approach from across the way. I tried to have a chat with him, but I could barely make out a word he was saying. It was like he wasn't present, like he couldn't even see me... I thought  to myself, "I've lost my friend."

A couple years later, I ran into Henry outside of Wal-Mart on a visit home and soon found myself standing over a bassinette looking down at a tiny baby boy named Aidan. Henry had started dating Zoe and soon they found themselves pregnant...

Now is the time that I feel compelled to say that if you are struggling with addiction my advice to you is NOT to go out and have a baby hoping that it will change things... it wasn't Henry's plan for that to happen, but essentially this is what happened. Henry "woke up" from him absence, in large part due to the love of Zoe in his life and in huge part due to the fact that her pregnancy led Henry to make a new commitment in his life; the commitment to be a good Dad, a commitment that would require a daily battle against addiction.

As we later sat in the backyard talking, laughing and hanging out I must admit I was a little selfish. I was thrilled that Henry was doing well, that he had a family and was obviously happy. The main thought I had and the words that I spoke that day were, "I have my friend back!"

You don't get too many friends like that. Friends who, no matter the time or distance, you know you can pick up where you left of, like no time has gone by at all. This includes, of course, the fact that in this friendship you get to be real, you get to be vulnerable, you get to be you. They won't judge you, they won't make you feel guilt or shame, no matter what you do, even if they disagree, what you get back is LOVE. Besides family, of which I've got a great one, I think I've only ever had a handful of friends like this.

You're sitting across from your best friend. They want to tell you something. They are obviously nervous, it's something that maybe they have never told another person... Maybe they want to share an experience of pain from their past... Maybe they have cheated on their spouse or boy/girlfriend... Perhaps they are struggling with an addiction... Maybe this is the moment they will share that they are gay... Will you, in that moment be able to LOVE and not judge, will you be able to listen instead of talk. Will you, even if you disagree, be able to say, "I love you and I am here to walk this journey with you."

If you can't, you are not really a friend to them.

We have times when we need someone we can be weak in front of, that is what makes a friendship strong.

Henry has moved to Saskatchewan and I miss him and his family all the time. I'm thinking about him especially now because St. Patty's Day is this weekend and for years and years we got together on that night. I don't call enough or stay in touch very well, I've never been a good friend that way. I remember another time though , a handful of years ago when things were not going so well for Henry he called me because, in his words, "I don't need a buddy right now, I need a brother." I know that no matter the time or space between us, when I need a brother, Henry will be there. When Henry needs a brother, I will be there. One evening, one walk as a teenaged kid and I got a friend for life!


Henry (right) with our friend Matt back in high school. (photo at Baker's Dozen in Heart Lake Town Centre)

Henry, Aidan and me a number of St. Patty's ago!

Henry, Aidan and myself a number of St. Patty's ago!

Henry and me with our boys!

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