…Darren was about 11 years old when I first met him, a couple of years younger than me. But in that stage of life a couple of years meant a great deal. He lived just a few doors down from O’Grunts in one of those post war, red brick, long and narrow bungalows, or ranchers. He was a very fragile lad, sickly in fact, suffering from numerous ailments, the most egregious of which was asthma. In spite of his frailties he always tried to be a part of our crowd although he could barely keep up with us with his constant wheezing, hacking and bronchial cough. He tried to play hockey on our outdoor rink and baseball in the summer, football in the fall, and any other activity that we thought about. We always welcomed him but could not really accommodate his physical weaknesses in our game play other than with encouragement and inclusiveness. Often Darren would just watch, then run, or skate, slowly toward us then stop, cough, wheeze catching his breath as if lost somehow then try again. He was always part of our football huddles, omnipresent it seemed with that deep, raspy breathing of his, as if in a reverb state, somewhat like an echo chamber, powerful but for its resonance to reflect Darren’s difficulty in every breath he took.
Thinking back now I am truly amazed at his courage and determination to participate in these types of activities. He would have been infinitely more comfortable in the more sedentary, intellectual pursuit but at such a young age the adventure, sense of belonging and sense of being alive, part of the gang, were probably more of an attraction for him than the limitations brought on by his physical liabilities. Perhaps we should have been more enlightened at that age to welcome him but at the same time steer him away from our everyday activities to ones that would have been more suitable for his condition. Ignorant that we were at such a young age we sort of took him for granted, as he was always there. Sadly, regrettably, we were ignorant of the warning signs that were staring us all in the face.
Darren died suddenly. This was a huge shock to all of us. For we were very young as well and incidents such as a death tend to hit youngsters like us suddenly and without warning, like a jackhammer to the gut.
He died from an asthma attack, I do believe, though I cannot be entirely sure of this given that Darren died some 50 plus years ago. O’Grunts told me of this tragic event, when I came to call on him one summer’s day
“Darren died” he said, as if questioning me somehow.
“No way. How? What happened?”
“Yesterday.” Sean continued “He had something of an asthma attack and couldn’t breathe properly. His dad got him to the hospital but it was too late and they couldn’t wake him.”
“Holy crap” I couldn’t believe it and just stood there, in shock, shaking my head as if somehow I could exorcise this news and make things real again. “Holy crap.”