i’m always surprised, startled even, by the occasional intersection of my own small part of the planet with The Big World, with fame or notoriety or the evening news. i remember struggling, as a kid, to truly grasp the idea that people far, far away read Anne of Green Gables and actually took it seriously, thought of it as a good book. not because i didn’t – at that age the only judgement i had for Anne was sycophantic, heart-singing adoration – but because it’s set on little old PEI, the mundane backwater setting for my own, erm, slightly less poignantly uplifting story. i knew i thought the world of Anne and her impish, earnest shenanigans. i just couldn’t believe anybody else – out there, you know, in the real world – had actually heard of her.

i’ve been in a bit of the same state of shock this past couple of days, as every time i turn on the radio CBC news tells me again, on national broadcasts, about the tragedy in Bathurst, New Brunswick this past weekend. those of you outside Canadian borders may not have heard…late Friday night, on the way back home from a basketball game, a van of high school basketball players and their coach and family hit some ice on the highway and slid straight into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. seven of the players are dead. so is the coach’s wife, who was a teacher at the school. the coach, who was driving, survived, along with his daughter and two players, so far as i can make out. they were nearly home, minutes from the exit that would have seen them safely off the highway.

it is a terrible story, and of pretty epic proportions, though i’m still shocked to see it at the top of Newsworld every hour. this is a part of the country that tends to get rather minimal news coverage outside of our own insular regional broadcasting, and doesn’t factor much in the national picture other Canadians seem to carry in their heads. when i lived in Vancouver, briefly, at twenty-two, desperately homesick, i took up daytime smoking mostly to have reason to congregate outside with the other smokers at the market where i worked, and at least twice heard people say they were from “out east” only to have my pitiful crows of “oh my god, really!?! i’m from PEI!” met with raised eyebrows and the blase comeback, “i’m from Guelph.”

Guelph is two hours from Toronto. in the middle of the country. but people seem to forget we’re out here.

i first heard about the accident early Saturday morning, before the details had even come in about where it had occurred, only that a van of high school athletes had crashed on the way back from some game and there had been multiple deaths. and i was struck, teacher as i once was, with what a shock wave this would send over the school, whatever school it might be. i had visions of adolescent grief and mourning that made me cringe against the rawness, the open wound of it all. one of the schools i work with here on the Island just went through its own heartbreaking accident a week ago, with one student killed and others hurt, still in recovery, and i know that entire community is still struggling to assimilate the reality. having the fabric of things torn open by death is a weird kind of shock at any age, but in adolescence there’s a particular vulnerability and confusion and instinct for the grandiose that makes it especially cruel. high school is bad enough without death.

i am not an adolescent anymore, at least on my better days. i’ve been up close to death and having the fabric of things torn open a few times now, and though the shock always takes me out at the knees, i like to think i’ve gotten beyond my base, juvenile instinct for making more of it than i have right to…and particularly for connecting myself, maudlin-like, to sorrow that is not my own.

yet the sorrow of the Bathurst High School boys’ basketball team has been living in my house the past few days. tears well in my eyes whenever i hear yet another story about it, and along with the disbelief that this has really made the national news and that the Prime Minister may attend the funerals on Wednesday, is something else there…something very personal, though ephemeral. i am not grieving those boys exactly, or the teacher who died, much as i have seen their names and faces now and looked, hard. i am in grief over proximity. i am grieving, for once, having been passed over…the exultant, fearful sorrow of those who, if destruction comes close, expect that something will smite them over the head, and are left shaken when it doesn’t. i am grieving the twenty-years-hence that will never happen for those boys.

because Dave went to Bathurst High School. he graduated as Male Athlete of the Year. he spent his high school years in those vans, on those roads, with that same poor surviving soul for a coach. there’s a Bathurst Phantoms rugby tshirt, almost a rag, still in our bureau. he still has his red and black hockey jacket, though it lives down at his parents’ cottage, a castoff brought out only on cold summer nights. the glory of the high school athlete was something he didn’t find hard to leave behind, i don’t think, and yet it is a part of him i barely know, hardly recognize, because i was so not an athlete and so not an athlete’s kind of girl that it isn’t a topic of conversation that, erm, comes up often.

but he wrote a post yesterday, trying to clear out some of the weight, to bear witness. Dave’s older brother, Stephen, died suddenly at 22 the week after Dave started high school at BHS. Dave wasn’t quite 15. he’d just made the hockey team, been given Stephen’s old number. he never got to tell him. and it was in those team vans, crowded, with tunes playing, pinging everywhere across the province late at night no matter the road conditions, that Dave found his way through the loss of his brother, found his feet despite that gaping hole. i think the vans were a kind of sanctuary for him, in those high school years that are hard enough in the first place.

and i think in my tears each time i hear about the Bathurst Phantoms are guilt and thanks, in the shock of proximity, that he made it through safe and largely unharmed, to me, this man now so far removed from the boy he was.

and my tears are sorrow, too, for those boys who will never get to find their way past high school to the maybe someones who might have loved them, chosen them, raised children with them, and looked at their old treasures in the closet and said, “oh yeh? did you use to play basketball?”

i am shocked, you see, that you might have heard of them, these boys from the little town of Bathurst, population 16,000ish. because to me they are all just Daves, in other incarnations.