My cousin Steve was a very good looking guy. He had dark, dark hair, flowing. His skin was darker too. If Freddie Mercury and Joan Baez could somehow have had a child, he might look like Steve.
One of my first memories of Steve would have been in the late spring of 1974. My family was visiting his to watch the Stanley Cup Finals between Bobby Orr’s Bruins and Bobby Clarke’s Flyers. Before the game, I went to the park with Steve and watched him play tennis. It may have been the first time I watched anyone play tennis. Steve was a good athlete. He played hockey and tennis and fastball and probably everything else available to him.
That afternoon, back at his house, before the game, I happened to pass by his bedroom on my way to the washroom and I caught a glimpse of him and his girlfriend kissing. Her name was Claudia and I thought she was beautiful. They were gently kissing while listening to the Beach Boys. Don’t Worry Baby was the song.
The last time I saw Steve was at a family picnic at Mooney’s Bay. He was going to buy my mother’s car. A 1972 Pontiac Ventura. Gold. It’s the car I learned to drive on but my mum was getting a Datsun soon.
In the early winter of 1985, when I lived in Toronto with my father, he received a telephone call from my mum. I’m not sure my dad ever met my cousin Steve but he had an affection for his father, my uncle Jack. When the call was over, my dad looked at me and said my cousin Steve had taken his life. That’s how he phrased it. Taken his life. He didn’t say he killed himself or he jumped. Took his life, is what he said. Passive.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Steve was in the midst of a break-up with his high school sweetheart, Claudia, who he married and had two kids with. Steve was so heart-broken or bitter or despondent that he couldn’t imagine the thought of losing his son. So when he jumped from his balcony, fifteen stories up, he held his young son in his arms and he took both of their lives. They went together.
That day, I headed to Queen Street West to the coffee shop across from MuchMusic. I guess I didn’t have enough money to go to a bar. But I sat in this coffee shop for hours. I drank coffee, had a bad roast beef sandwich and fed the juke box as I watched the first snow of the season fall and fall and fall. And the song I kept playing was Life in A Northern Town. The harmonies in the chorus just made me cry and I needed to cry. Watching the snow fall and remembering my cousin who leapt to his death with his entirely innocent child. Stephen Junior.
For a while I couldn’t understand it. The senselessness of it. And I still can’t understand how Claudia got on with her life. I think I’ve known pain but I haven’t known anything like that.
And then I thought Steve was a coward. Kill yourself, man but leave the boy alone.
Now I think differently. No one who does this kind of thing is thinking clearly. They are not healthy. They are sick. And not with a broken bone that may heal in six weeks. Sick in a way that cripples them. It’s no less a fatal disease than the worst kind of cancer.
I know the feeling now. And if I ever thought unfairly of my poor cousin Steve, if he could somehow know my thoughts or read my words, I’m sorry Steve for thinking of you with anything less than the empathy and love that you needed.
It wasn’t your fault. And I’m so very sorry that you suffered as you did. You didn’t deserve that. No one does.