I did not have many girlfriends in high school. I was a geek, a browner – literally – and the most action I saw was during theatre arts class. Miss Coleman would turn out the lights and tell us to take dramatic positions in the dark. In the dark, Bill Laflame and Eddie Edwards would pulverise me. When the lights came on we would freeze positions, mine always slightly wobbly.
Marlene was kind enough to go with me to the prom. Her mother drove us. Harvey the invisible rabbit sat next to us.
I dated a Lithuanian girl in university. Her father took the chocolates that I gave her and fed them to their Doberman guard dog. For some reason the dog was always loose whenever I came to visit.
So I gave up on girls and concentrated on getting a job. I’ve always had this thing for helping people, saving lives. It is why I tried to get into medical school for awhile. Also why I joined boy scouts: besides the fact that it gave me a legitimate excuse to get away from my family for whole weekends at a time, we also were part of a city-wide search and rescue team.
The Canadian Coast Guard has this amazing job for university students. I was looking for adventure. If I couldn’t have a girlfriend or get into medical school, then at least I was going to have a kickass job. So I went down and talked to the people in the Coast Guard office, and started preparing for the summer job of a lifetime.
One of the requirements for the job was a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation – CPR. Advanced first aid. You learn how to help someone not only when they’ve stopped breathing but when their heart stops too. You can break ribs when you do chest compressions so they have you practice on a life-sized mannequin – Annie – during the course.
I went to the course with my friend Larry, from boy scouts. Saturday, January 19, 1980.
It was an all-day affair, and Larry and I teamed up together for the morning, practising landmarking chest positions on each other and getting the hand positions right for chest compressions. I was shy. I didn’t really look around to see who else was there. Then the instructor said, “Change partners and work with someone you do not know.” Worst nightmare. Like waiting to get picked on a sports team. Who would want to be my partner?
Everything happened quickly. This absolutely gorgeous vision of a young woman appeared before me, with the most amazing eyes, and wavy long brown hair (permed, as it turned out, for a party the night before). I wasn’t good with pickup lines. But I noticed her wearing a blue U of T t-shirt. “Hey,” I said. “We go to the same school.”
We paired off for the afternoon and practised landmarking chest positions. When the time came to do the test on Annie, she turned out a perfect tape. I had to work on mine for awhile. A long while. People started to leave for home. She stayed.
At the end of the day, I finally passed, and she was still there. So was Larry, who wanted to go home. I kept him waiting.
I asked her out to lunch. She said yes.
Larry was stunned. He had known me for years, and had never seen me ask a girl out. I danced all the way to the subway.
And that’s how I met my wife. At a CPR course. The first thing I did when I met her was put my hands on her chest.
I talked to my youngest daughter about this once, musing about the way people meet. You meet them in a bar, you know that drinking will be an issue. You fool around, you know that trust will be an issue. I can’t get my wife to stop saving people’s lives. (I got the Coast Guard job. She got into medical school.)
“What advice should I give my clients?” I asked my daughter, “About where to go to meet the right person?”
“Tell them to go nowhere,” she said. “The right person will come at the right time in the most unusual place.”
She’s very wise.