WhistlerWhistler, British Columbia, Canada. The 2016 band trip. It was my first time on a band trip. Despite needing to stuff everything into a carry-on because my trombone needed to be checked, I was very excited. I had been looking forward to this trip since the fourth grade.
I arrived at the airport hours before I needed to be there. Not to my surprise, I wasn’t the first person there. We were all too excited. The lucky woodwind, high brass, and percussion sections who were allowed to bring full-on suitcases made fun of the saxophones and low brass who didn’t have that luxury. However, the students with bigger instruments looked much cooler walking through the airport. Even if our arms and backs ached afterward.
I sat down and opened my sketchbook. The drawing I was working on was a character from a Homestuck fanfiction. At the time, I thought that silly comics and Japanese cartoons were the best things life had to offer. And though I can’t help but cringe a little bit at the memories, I truly did enjoy those things. I suppose that’s all that matters. It would be nice if things could go back to the way they were then. Cringe-worthy choices in entertainment and all.
The other thing I strictly remember about that day was a percussionist named Marina. Marina was a friend of mine at the time. She moved schools the year after the Whistler trip and we lost touch. I saw her again a few months ago at the memorial service, but it was forced small talk. Neither of us wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. I can’t help but wonder how she feels about leaving at the time she did. Maybe she wished she could have spent more time with him, or maybe she’s grateful that the shock was less painful. Or maybe the shock was that much more painful because of the distance.
Anyways, she threw up as we were boarding the plane. I remember looking over my shoulder just in time. I couldn’t tell if she was actually puking or if she just spat on carpets for fun. The flight attendant rushed to her and gave her water. She did puke. I was rushed to the plane before I could see what happened next. Behold, I was in the seat right next to her. Behold once more, I was puking by the end of the day. I still don’t know if Marina had transferred anything to me or if I just ate bad spaghetti. Looking back, that first day should have been horrible. But despite throwing up in a hotel room, breaking off one of my braces by biting into a lollipop too ambitiously, packing my hygienic bag in my trombone case to sneak more liquids onto the plane, and the painful bus ride from Vancouver to Whistler, you have no idea what I would give to relive it all. To feel the sand between my toes on the beach, to laugh until my sides were sore with my friends, to taste that delicious cake in the bakery, to eat pesto and garlic bread out of a box while looking out on the water, and to appreciate Mr. Liam while he was still alive.
The actual band part of that trip was supposed to be horrible as well. Our band placed second in the Cantando Music Festival. That doesn’t sound too bad, but there was only one other band in our category. But it was funny. We all found it amusing. And we all learned so much from it.
As far as the social part of that trip goes, I think those are some of my best memories. I could go on for days about all the inside jokes we shared. All the fun we had. Our band was so much more than an optional class we took in school. Our band was a family. And Mr. Liam was our father. Even when we weren’t in Whistler or in the band room, he was still like a father to us. He gave us the gift of music and brought us together as a community.
Skip ahead to the grade 9 graduation. Mr. Liam gave us all a speech about how important we were. He said that we would face some hardships in high school, but he reminded us to stay strong and persevere. He reminded us that we each mattered and none of us should ever give up. It didn’t take a psychologist to notice all of the emotion in his voice and in his teary eyes. Even though we were all leaving the school, we all knew that we would still be a community.
October 9th, 2017. For all you foreigners, October 9th is Thanksgiving in Canada. I was already well adjusted to my new school. Making new friends and bonding with new teachers. Suddenly, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I almost declined the call, but something inside of me said to answer it.
“Hello?” I said, mildly nervous.
“Hi,” the voice answered back. I recognized her voice. It was Ariel. In our last year of junior high, I played the tuba and she played the tenor saxophone. We were both the only musicians who played those instruments in our band. We had an inside joke that we were ‘Low-Brass-Buddies.’ Ariel’s voice was shaking as she spoke. I was concerned.
I don’t remember exactly what we said in that call. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. Ariel informed me that Mr. Liam had died of cancer. My emotions at first didn’t compute. I didn’t feel anything. I think my heart was trying to dismiss this as some kind of practical joke, even if Ariel was the last person who would joke about that. I went the rest of the day enthusiastically interacting with my family members. However, what Ariel told me was still ringing in the back of my mind.
Describing the grief I still feel is tricky. It’s like time is going too fast and I need it to slow down. Stop, you’re going too fast. You’re leaving someone important behind. We can’t move forward if he’s not with us. Someone important and amazing is gone and he doesn’t deserve to be left behind or forgotten. We can’t move on.
Seeing everyone in the community again at his memorial was so hard. I started crying the second I walked through those school doors. I noticed so many things I didn’t even know I missed. It’s still too overwhelming for me to describe. It was one of those things where you would have had to be there in order to understand.
I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve accepted that he’s gone. I know that he’s gone. The part that I have trouble accepting is that he’s not coming back. Ever. I miss him so much. I can’t imagine how awful this must be for his poor family.
I went back to Whistler a few months later. I didn’t think I was ready to be back, but I knew I had to see it again. Not to relive, that was impossible. But to remember and appreciate. And hopefully to come to terms.
I went to all of the shops my old friends and I went into before. The wooden jewelry shop, the ski shop, the candy shop with Harry Potter themed jellybeans in the back corner, and even the grocery store we explored just for the sake of it. I went to the music hall and listened to the bands play. From immature grade 8 bands like myself at the time to college bands like what I hoped to be someday. In each and every ensemble I heard, I could hear their sense of community. I could hear how much they loved one another in their playing. I could see the passion their instructors had as they conducted the beautiful music. I even recognized some of the songs as songs we had once played. Clair de Lune, Variations of a Russian Sailor’s Dance, El Capitan, the list goes on.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’m honestly scared to find out. And I wish I could leave you, the reader, with a moral of the story. Like an accented quarter-note to end the song. But I can’t. There isn’t even an ending to give at all. I’m still living the on-going story every day that he's gone. Every day that he can’t live, I still have to. Time still goes on. The world doesn’t stop for anyone.