Whatever happened to Yuri?
1. You think about how all throughout sixth grade, you had been with a group of close friends. There was yourself, your oldest friend Laurent (still a friend to this day), a jokester from Ethiopia whom you had all nicknamed with a deeply stupid French word that rhymed with his name Murutus (prepubescent boys will be prepubescent boys), a Jamaican guy named Kamal, the typical WASP Caucasian Jason, and Yuri.
An eclectic bunch, you all were, though not an especially wild one. You ate lunch together, clowned on your rivals at recess, and discussed girls, just the usual sixth-grade stuff with the very occasional but minor overflow. Which brings us to that one day during lunch break one winter day in sixth grade. You were playing 2-on-2 soccer in the snow with a tennis ball, Yuri, yourself, Jason and Laurent. Here, the details on who did what to who, how and when, get a little fuzzy but an argument broke out between Jason and Yuri. It ended when you all collectively decided to shun Jason after he had kicked and spilled Yuri’s lunch on the snow. (Escalating the argument, they call it.)
The gang eventually got back together after a few weeks or months, but the damage was done. Jason was done. He was with you, but he wasn’t really with you anymore, you know?
These memories are all coming back to you these days. They’re coming back in droves ever since, two weeks or so ago, the madman Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, in the process killing thousands, injuring dozens of thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands more and enraging just about everyone of us sane folks around the world. The memories are a little fuzzy due to the passage of time, but at the centre of them all is Yuri.
2. You think about how you met Yuri in elementary school, probably in fourth grade you wanna say. He had arrived in Quebec with his single mother and was from Ukraine, which you didn’t really know where it was then. But you understood how loyal, proud and fierce Yuri was as a friend. Yuri was always with you, always down to get down with his friends. He always had everyone’s back. (Except, you know, Jason.) You remember that over the weeks and months, you went over to his mother’s home — or rather, apartment — a few times. Above all, you remember him going over to your parents’ house too, and how you played video games when you weren’t outside playing street hockey. You remember living within walking-distance from the school, while Yuri had to take the bus to get there. Mind you, the city bus and not the school bus. You always thought that was so fucking cool of him.
One time in sixth grade, everyone from the old gang went to an Expos game (Remember them? That’s how long it’s been LOL) at the Olympic Stadium. You remember next to nothing about the game, but you remember two things. The first is that this night was your collective first time ever approaching and speaking to other girls — strangers not from your school, at that! — and that it led nowhere but goddamn if it didn’t make all five of you (the entire gang, minus Jason) feel like absolute rockstars. The second thing you remember is that there is a photo of you guys all doing the D-Generation X “Suck It!” gesture, and how Laurent’s dad, who had thought wise to act as chaperon for the outing, thought it was all so silly.
3. You think about how you would have lost touch with Yuri as soon as you got to high school, the same way you would with Jason, Kamal, and Murutus. Only, Yuri played hockey with you. You remember that you kept making the same teams together. Yuri was a centerman, you were a defenseman. He played physical with a combustible personality, you were a dependable and quiet force. A study in contrast, Yuri and you played hockey together and excelled at that too.
You think about how one year your team lost in the playoffs against the neighbouring HSO — it was always the freaking HSO teams — and how at the end of the game those idiots tried to start something. You were just 12 or 13 years old then, the wild hockey fights and games would only start a year later, but one guy on HSO crosschecked you across the face right at the end of the game. Yuri instantly had your back and just about took on the entire team by himself. Both teams didn’t really know how to fight, not by a long shot, but Yuri threw down.
Then you stopped making the same teams. When you both moved to bantam, Yuri made the elite team as the last man in. You were the first man out. That was that. You kept in touch a bit longer, but it was essentially done. Yuri stopped playing when he was 15 or 16 years old, the memories are fuzzy here. But one day you went downtown to see his apartment, which you thought was so cool but now understand was not a good thing — that a 16-year-old would be living on his own right close to St. Laurent Station.
4. You think about how you were both raised differently, you in your ivory tower of Academia and the Power of Higher Learning, destined to go to a prestigious high school and to do great and big things once you got to said high school. (That’s literally what your teachers told your cohort in the first week. That you were part of the next generation of elites. No pressure.) You think about how ironic it is that you settled into a perfectly fine and great life on the South Shore of Montreal, and about how in this day and age of historic events average and fine is something you don’t get to experience all that much anymore.
Yuri was raised differently, how could he have not been? His mother had come over to Canada from Ukraine, so beliefs in education and striving for that “je ne sais quoi” were a little muddled amid the pull for survival and settling into a whole entire new country. With good reason, too. You haven’t seen or heard from Yuri in about two decades, but deep down you know that your fates are still so different. Because if the current society is a microcosm of what’s otherwise unfolding in the world, then maybe you wouldn’t be the one sent to Ukraine to fight a madman, but that Yuri would be. You know that you would be the one condemning the act very sternly, with strong words and a mean face, and hell maybe even *gasp* sanctions.
And that Yuri would be right there and then, in the middle of the war. Hell, you know that there is a chance that Yuri actually is over there right now. Fighting for his country.
5. You think about how Yuri is not your only Ukrainian friend, but he’s the first one you’ve known. That you met at a time before social media and constant, online connectivity. You think about how you know absolutely everything about your other Ukrainian acquaintances, god bless them, as they share everything they can on social media about the war and its costs, both human and otherwise. But not Yuri. You haven’t spoken or seen him in something in so long.
You think about all this as you think about Yuri. Whatever happened to him, you wonder where he is. And above all, wherever he is you just hope that he’s okay.
Cause you miss him. #StandWithUkraine