Someone, at some point, owned the house I now live in and decided to build an in-law suite as an addition. The grandparents-living-with-the-kids thing is somewhat popular in this city. When my mom bought this house in 2004, the addition was her ‘wing’ of the house. Eventually it became its own separate apartment and sometime after that it ended up falling into my hands. Now I’m in here by myself, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. I’ve got my video games all over there in several stacks, my DVDs more or less beside them. I’ve got my leather furniture and my fireplace and my posters. I’m a college-aged male so it’s pretty dirty. I don’t mean like “the DVDs are just laying everywhere” (because I keep them neatly organized), I mean like “will someone please dust that kid’s fucking house”. Just me and my cat here, and right on the other side of the door is the rest of my family in case I completely run out of food or company (hey, college-aged male, give me a break).
A few months ago my little sister got a cat of her own, except as he’s grown he’s started to look more and more like a squirrel. His tail is simply gigantic and he’s hilarious to watch. He loves coming next door to play with me and my cat. Anytime I open the door to go to the other side, you can hear him (and the dog, too, let’s not forget about her) come running from wherever in the house they are to see me and maybe, just maybe, get that golden ticket to come next door when I go back.
He’s a real little fucker too, a big fan of hopping up onto my speakers and diving behind them to play with the wires. If my house ever burned down, he’d definitely be the first reason I’d think of, and that’s WITH gas stoves. One thing he hates is being told no. No, you can’t eat my cat’s food. No, you can’t chew through my electrical cords. No, you can’t kick box my cat. No, you can’t claw the couch. No, you can’t go through that door just because it’s closed. I mean he probably hates being told no because he just has to wait for me to fall asleep and he can do it all he wants without any real repercussions, but still, you have to teach him rules. He’s an animal dammit. Today he was chasing my cat all over the apartment (my cat likes playing but he’s turning eight this summer, not always in the mood for full force fighting, he takes after me like that) and my cat ran under my bed. I decided I was going to step in and pick Momo (that’s the squirrel cat) and move him next door. He didn’t like that. I have two big gashes on my right arm near the wrist (another two months of people thinking I’m one of those chic cutters, fantastic), another big one on the back of my hand, and several small ones in between to show for my troubles.
I didn’t really like this anymore than he likes being told no, so I shoved him right back, then picked him up angrily and threw him next door. I slammed the door and as he looked back, just before it closed, he looked kind of sad, that kind of sad where he doesn’t think he did anything wrong but he knows he upset someone and that doesn’t make him happy. But God dammit I was trying to play some NBA 2K5 and now I had to wrap my hand in a t-shirt because I was bleeding pretty decently for some cat scratches. I wasn’t in the mood to make up with a fucking cat. I knew he’d be back. He always comes back.
So I found a dirty t-shirt (I’m not so good with the laundry either) and wrapped my hand up tight in it and hit the ol’ internet to entertain me until I was confident that I wouldn’t drip blood onto my PS2 controller while playing. Eventually I came across something, a news item, and it really upset me and I kind of stopped what I was doing and just sat there and thought for a while. I wasn’t bleeding anymore, so I went next door and tried to find Momo. No one had any idea where he was. I ended up in the basement and found him, by himself, off on a corner couch curled up and asleep. I felt bad when I threw him out earlier but I felt really bad seeing him all alone so I pet him and he woke up and I apologized for being an asshole. Why do I talk to my cats? They’re cats. Whatever. I walked back upstairs and told my mom what I had read on the internet, that Peter Zezel was dying in a hospital of a rare blood disorder and had been taken off life support. We talked about it for a few minutes and then I came back next door.
A few minutes later there was a soft pawing at my door. Momo wanted to come in. So I let him. And he came over to me and Minion (that’s my cat, by the way) on the couch and sat with us and was a nice boy. And it was nice, and I’m glad it happened. Death has a way of making you appreciate smaller, nicer things in life.
And Peter Zezel died today.
Back in grade twelve I was your perfect grade twelve student. This meant that when we had research time (what the fuck did we need to research? It was grade twelve. Anyone who is reading something on the internet did grade twelve with their eyes closed. The people who had problems in high school are over on YouTube laughing like hyenas over people falling while skateboarding) I was on ESPN.com checking fantasy football stats or something along those lines. One day my law teacher, who was subbing for our business teacher (it was a business class, we were always on the damn computers in business class because what the fuck do you need to learn in grade twelve business?), his name was D’Arcy McCardle though I’m almost positive I’m spelling that wrong, called me out in class. I quickly hid ESPN and spun around and he asked me to come with him, and I was like “oh shit”, and then he said it had something to do with the site I had just been on, and I was like “OH SHIT”.
Luckily McCardle was an awesome teacher and an even better guy and as soon as he got me out of the classroom he told me that he was just fucking with me. We were going down to the office, but that’s because Peter Zezel was coming to our school and they wanted me to ask him a question because they knew I knew a lot about hockey. Sure enough, the next day Peter Zezel was at our annual awards assembly. He gave a speech about effort and trying and success and whatnot. Then they called out a bunch of students in the stands to stand up and ask questions. And of course these were predominantly the best students and whatnot, and they asked questions about trying hard for your goals and stuff. I wasn’t like that, God dammit I was a hockey fan and I was going to ask a hockey question. So when it was my turn I stood up, and I don’t remember the exact wording, but I had looked at his career stats the night before, so I asked him what it was like to get so close to the Stanley Cup in both 1987 and 1993 only to be foiled by Wayne Gretzky’s teams.
I should have looked closer. He came close in 1985, too.
Anyway he kind of smiled and chuckled and I had a huge smile on my face and he tried to tie it back into the general message of success. The head office at the school looked like they were going to have their heads explode. Later McCardle told me that the staff was very impressed with how much I knew about hockey and translated the question to our law class for those of us who didn’t follow hockey or hadn’t been to the assembly. McCardle laughed about it. Jared, who used to write for this blog (and that’s a funny joke, because all three of us USED to write for this blog and none of us really do now), was one of the ones who skipped the assembly. Jared was always a huge fan of the 92-93 Leafs, like everyone on God’s green earth is, and he was massively bummed. We got to meet Peter Zezel, and he didn’t.
We joked about it for months afterward but now Jared will never get to meet Peter Zezel, because Peter Zezel is gone.
Some girl asked why Zezel looked so big, because he looked like he had ballooned, and McCardle tried to tell us about his disorder and how it made him carry extra weight or something. I guess none of us really knew what he was talking about, or didn’t listen, or something. I don’t remember anything about a rare blood disease being brought up. Or that it was potentially fatal. I was blindsided today. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t. Peter Zezel. 44! Fuck. 44.
Age is a funny thing, because the older you get, you’re really playing a twisted game of chicken with your body. The twist is that no matter what you do, how determined you are to win, you will always lose. In the end, you lose. Your body will fail and turn on you at the drop of the hat, seemingly at random, the percentages lining up against you the older you get. I’m 21. I’m 21 and my right shoulder grinds and cracks when I move it and I have no idea why. I’m 21 and sometimes I will wake up in a bed next to someone and my back will hurt so much that I’ll have to spend the day walking on an angle, like a fuzzy, Canadian Quasimodo. I can crack every major joint in my body like it was my pinky knuckle, and I’m 21. Today my sister’s cat clawed open my arm and hand. The bloody scratches are still there. And I’m thankful. I’m thankful even though my shoulder sounds like a meat grinder and my back gives me fits and my joints pop like firecrackers when I tell them to and I have streaks of blood on my hands. I’m thankful even though I’m 21 and my body is certainly older than I am.
At least I don’t have haemolytic anaemia. I can’t even say that. Do you know what that is? If you had asked me yesterday I wouldn’t have known. I know now, though I still can’t say it.. TSN tells me that it killed Peter Zezel. I have no reason not to believe them (…for once). Haemolytic anaemia is a disorder where your body kills your red blood cells. It kills them faster than it can reproduce them. I guess this means that you run out eventually. You run out and die. Peter Zezel died. I have cuts all over my arm and hand, cuts is really a better word than scratches in terms of giving you a visual of what I see right now, and I can see the blood, and I am fucking THANKFUL that my body doesn’t hate me enough to kill off my red blood cells faster than it can reproduce them. That’s a horrible thought. A horrible thought. I know I’m going to pass on when my body decides that it’s had enough, good show old boy but I’m tired and want to go home now, you’ve had your fun. I don’t like thinking about it because it could come in any number of ways. But killing off my own blood cells? That terrifies me more than I’m comfortable thinking about. It happened to Peter. And he’s gone now and I guess all we have left are sad, confused ramblings. And memories.
I was young when Zezel was here in Toronto. Like five, six. To me, and many others, those teams live on through the magic of video tape (somewhere, Jack Horner is disgusted). One such tape was “The Passion Returns”, a tape my dad had that covered the 92-93 Leafs. Peter was featured prominently on the tape and I loved him. I loved everyone on the team because at seven years old you don’t dislike someone on your favourite hockey team in a puff video piece. But you also don’t know what a puff video piece is. You’re just watching a fascinating movie about the best hockey team ever. And you’re falling in love with the sport and each and every player on that tape. Gilmour. Potvin. Clark. Gill. Ellett. Andreychuk (hey, he even has the same first name as me! How cool is that?). Zezel. Foligno. Macoun. Everyone. As I grew older and started devouring everything about hockey that my young eyes could find, I’d always run into players from that tape. That tape and the 94 Leafs and the 95 Leafs when they came back from the lockout and I actually watched and the 96 Leafs which was the year Gretzky got traded to the Blues and then we played them in the first round and they beat us. Those motherfuckers, they beat us. And then Colorado won the Cup and because I was young and they had a cool logo I decided I was an Avalanche fan. I wasn’t actually because, though I didn’t know it at the time, I was bound by blood to the Leafs. Still, my mom later told me she had been planning on ordering me some Leafs’ clothes and when I announced I was an Avalanche fan she decided not to. I’ve actually regretted that every single time I’ve thought about this since I was told I could have had Leafs’ clothes. No one has ever known that.
But I’d run into Gilmour, who was still in Toronto, though not for long at this point, and Potvin who was here for a little longer, and Clark who was gone but holy crap we traded for him again that is AWESOME! And Zezel. The first year I have conscious memories of watching hockey was the 95 season and it was a game against Dallas. Mike Torchia was in net. Peter Zezel was on Dallas. I had no idea why. And we had some buffoon named Mike Craig on our team. I liked everyone on the Leafs’ back then. I even liked Matt Martin. I didn’t like Mike Craig. Later when I was old enough to find individual stat sheets and player histories I’d find out Zezel was basically traded for Mike Craig (restricted free agent compensation, oh pre-Bettman NHL rules). Damn did that ever piss me off. Damian Cox will have you believe that trading the draft pick that ended up being Roberto Luongo was the worst Leafs’ asset mismanagement under Cliff Fletcher but Zezel-for-Craig was pretty fucking awful and I’m not just saying that because of certain events. Like with everyone else from those teams, though, I was always happy to read a team report and come across Peter Zezel’s name and hopefully see him doing well. I remember the year he got traded to Anaheim only for him to not report because he was staying home with his dying niece. That was heartbreaking.
And like that he was gone from my life, the guy with the Z-name from the video, the guy who was given up for Mike Craig, the man who chose family over money. I certainly thought about Peter Zezel after that. Talked about him, with Jared I’m sure. But he didn’t cross my eyesight anymore, until the day that I was pulled aside and was told to come up with a question to ask him. The best I came up with was asking what it was like to lose to Gretzky. Fuck. I could have done better.
I guess at least I didn’t ask what it was like to be traded for Mike Craig.
Still, all day I’ve felt bad that Peter Zezel was lying on his deathbed, removed from life support, a hockey player I adored when I was a little boy, and when I met him a decade later and was actually solicited for being someone who would have something of value to say… I didn’t have anything. Maybe I impressed people with what I knew about hockey that day. But in the end I feel bad and unlike today when I felt bad that I had hurt a cat’s feelings I won’t ever get to talk to Peter again and express my admiration. To fix things. Hopefully he’s somewhere where he’s fixing things now. And kicking the puck to the wing off the draw, naturally.
Goodbye, Peter. I’ll miss you. We all will.