Somewhere on the Eastern shore of Japan Death seems to be an unfortunate and recurring subplot to the the 2011 NHL offseason. The untimely passing of Rick Rypien on August 15th was another devastating loss to the hockey community who was still mourning the death of left winger, Derek Boogaard, a mere three months earlier.
It seems like only yesterday that the 2010-11 NHL season began with Rick Rypien wailing on some poor fan during a contest against the Minnesota Wild. I remember the incident quite well. I was living in Korea at the time, and the stress from being so far away from hockey land was already starting to get to me. I remember regarding the epic fight as one of the main examples to support my internal debate about my decision to move to Korea. Clearly, Rypien was proof positive that I was missing out on an outstanding hockey season.
Now perhaps you may see this as an inappropriate blog post, and maybe it is. I feel like over the past few years I’ve really lost touch with what is right and wrong. And don’t get me started on my lost mechanism for compassion, either. However, I want to make clear before I continue that I am in no way insinuating anything about the personal lives of either the late Mr. Boogaard or Mr. Rypien. And, for the record, I never knew either of these men personally.
I don’t know what the normal person does when they hear of a death of a notable person or hockey player. Everyone says how sorry they are, and they always send out their figurative thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of the dearly departed. But do they really do this? Do you really think about and pray for the faceless friends and family of a person you never actually knew? Like I said, I don’t know what the normal person does apart from following the social etiquette of feigning concern, but I will tell you that when I hear of a death of a prominent figure that effects my universe, then I do actually reflect on the implications.
Like, for example, the tragic passing of the Honourable Jack Layton yesterday made me think about Canada, and I mean REALLY think about Canada. I’ve never voted NDP, I should say that right now. Like many left-minded voters, I’ve never personally felt safe voting for the orange party. Up until the election this spring, the more effective anti-Conservative vote was always to vote Liberal. Yes, I’m Liberal, but you can’t expect me to believe that any of you are shocked to find this out. Since 2003, however, Canada watched Jack Layton turn the NDP into THE Conservative opposition party. He was probably one of the most charismatic politicians Canada has ever had. Had he been the leader of the red party, he likely would have been Prime Minister. His death brings with it a great loss of leadership in Ottawa, and I am, surprisingly, sincerely devastated by the news. I say surprisingly only because I’ve always been more likely to focus on hockey news than political news, but I’d like to think that I don’t live under a rock. Rest in peace, Mr. Layton.
As for the loss of a hockey player, I do actually reflect sincerely on the people I imagine to have known the man. However, I don’t think about the wife or the girlfriend, the kids or the parents, or even the teammates, who are all probably sick with grief. The people I think about when a hockey player dies are almost always the puck bunnies he has known in his lifetime. I know this probably sounds weird to you, but I’m a weird person if you haven’t noticed. I also don’t have much personal experience with loss either. In my life, I have personally known two people that have died. My grandfather who died suddenly when I was 21, and my best friend who died of cancer when I was 8 years old.
Bill lived six houses down from the first house my parents bought after our move from Toronto to Kitchener-Waterloo. He was a year older than me, and went to a different school. I remember the day that I rode my bike down the street to see if he wanted to play outside. Although six houses really isn’t much of a distance, it felt like the other side of town to an 8 year old, and it was pretty much the furthest I could get away from my own house before breaking the “leaving the street” rule, a rule that I had learned came with a consequential grounding every time I had been caught wandering off.
Bill had answered the door that day. He said he couldn’t come out and play because he was sick. He didn’t look sick to me, so naturally I had to call him on his bullshit. “I have cancer,” he said. Cancer. I suppose I knew what cancer was at the time, but I didn’t fully grasp it. I knew it was bad, but I did know that my grandfather allegedly had it twice in the 80’s and he had beaten it both times. So, this didn’t really seem like the end of the world. Nevertheless, I backed away from the door and said goodbye to him. I picked up my bike, and rode slowly back to my house. My mom was in the kitchen, so I told her the news matter of factly. “Bill can’t play. He says he has cancer.” My mom freaked out, “WHAT?!” And she was immediately on the phone to, Amy, Bill’s mom.
The next several months were a blur of watching my friend deteriorate before my eyes. One second he had hair, the next, he didn’t. One moment we were riding our bikes together, then next minute he couldn’t walk. One minute we’d be watching the Power Rangers, and then he was blind. We couldn’t play in his room anymore either, by the end Bill had a bed and hospital equipment set up in his living room because climbing the stairs was out of the question. I remember once, during a sleep over, his mom made some type of God awful Chinese medicinal tea, and gave a cup to me, too. It made me want to gag, I didn’t know how he was managing to drink it every single day.
Despite it all, I don’t think it ever sunk in to any of the kids on the street that Bill was actually going to die. My family and I even attended a mass at his church when they did some type of service in his honour. I still didn’t get it. I hadn’t been to mass in over a year at that point. When I was seven, shortly after my sister was born, my parents weren’t able to take me to church as often. My sister would usually cry, and needed to be taken into the soundproof baby pews, and likely my parents were too tired from being up all night with her. One day, our priest cornered me in the parking lot at my school, and asked me why I wasn’t in church the previous Sunday. I told my mom, mostly because I was embarrassed that he had noticed my absence. I suppose this set off some alarm bells as far as my mom was concerned, and we never went to another mass at that church until my Confirmation when I was thirteen. All I was thinking of the day of Bill’s mass was my boredom, and how irritated I was that he and I were shipped off to some sort of Sunday school thing that was going on in the church basement after he had received his blessing. I had never been to Sunday school before, and, frankly, I didn’t care for it. It was a little too Rod and Todd for my taste. Even the other kids in that class didn’t have a clue about Bill. I think the only kid that really knew Bill was dying was Bill.
The night before I found out Bill had died, I had dreamt about him. Bill had knee cancer, which had spread too rapidly for amputation to be an option. In his last months of life his parents did everything to ensure that his childhood was a happy one. There was a trip to Florida that I remember. My family and I were in Florida at the time, too. Bill’s family was staying in a hotel down the beach from us, and I remember my excitement at getting to swim in an unfamiliar pool when we went over to visit. I’ve always been a bit of a water baby. I didn’t think about it at the time, but now that I do, I suppose this should have been a major warning sign that Bill’s parents knew that all was lost.
Bill’s parents also bought him a puppy a few weeks before he died. I guess he always wanted to have a dog, and his parents wanted to make sure that he got to have the joy of that experience. After Bill died, his family got rid of the dog very quickly. In my dream that night, however, Bill was outside wandering around the neighbourhood at a brisk pace – something he hadn’t been able to do in a long time. It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, but it was warm enough for Bill to wear shorts, which was strange because the calendars had only just flipped over to March. As he hurried along I noticed his dog was pulling him by the leash. I remember him being happy, and that the dream felt so real to me. I woke up sincerely thinking Bill was finally alright.
I got up and went downstairs. My parents were standing in the kitchen facing each other, but looking at the white and pink tiled floor in silence. My mother finally looked up and told me that Bill had passed away during the night. She was visibly upset, which I didn’t really understand. I knew that wherever Bill was he was happy. He was probably running around with his dog and playing baseball and Nintendo all day. All I remember saying was, “Oh,” before I walked back up to my room. I never cried. I never felt the need to. I didn’t really know much about psychics or premonitions at the time, but even then I felt that the dream was a message from Bill himself. He wanted me to know he was fine, so I took his word for it. Bill wasn’t dead, he was just a different kind of alive.
Over the next few months I experienced the implications of death and the manifestations of grief in others. It began with Bill’s wake. He was lying in an open casket surrounded by pictures and his favourite toys. This was the first time I had seen a dead body, and it wasn’t like what cartoons and horror movies had led me to believe. Bill wasn’t blue, or green, or white, with rotting flesh like some zombie. He just looked like he was taking a nap. It was so surreal. To this day I still remember walking into that room seeing him, then his mother, then my dad with a tear in his eye. In my mind it looks like how it would look in a movie with the cameraman panning to each person with a flawless transition.
Eventually Bill’s mother reached some bizarre level of grief which manifested in her inviting me and another girl over to play with Bill’s toys in his room. This other girl was Bill’s best school friend, who just happened to have the same first name and birthday as me! I could tell I wasn’t going to get along with this broad. In fact her father was my gym teacher in first grade. I threw a beanbag at his head once, and he sent me to the principal’s office. I DID have a bionic arm according to my baseball coaches. After that Bill’s parents took me to visit his grave. His mom wanted to take pictures of me next to the headstone. I remember being really uncomfortable because I didn’t know if I was supposed to smile or not. As you can tell by my pictures, I only have one facial expression in pictures, and that is a smile. In the end, I ended up smiling as usual, but in all the pictures you can tell that I’m really thinking about it.
I don’t know what made me the way I am in regards to death, but I think my dream about Bill really had a lot to do with how I handle loss. By the time I was 21, and my grandfather passed away I was too far gone to change my natural reaction to the loss. I was the one who had to call 911 that day. I was the one that had to attempt to revive him. I was the one that had to babysit my 14 month old cousin while rallying all the members of the family to get to the hospital in Toronto. They said I had nerves of steel, and that they didn’t know how I managed to do it. The truth was, I knew he was dead when I touched him. Despite the fact that I sincerely attempted to revive him, I knew there was nothing that could be done, and it was just a matter of me waiting for the rest of the family to process and accept that reality
I am probably one of the most over-analytical people you will ever meet. If there is a glimmer of hope, or a chance in Hell, I will fight for it like nobody’s business. However, there is no changing death. It’s final. No amount of tears or rage will ever bring someone back to life. So, I suppose I save my energy, my anger, and my tears for the things that can actually be influenced by them.
I originally had a date on the day of my grandfather’s funeral. One of the frats at U of T was having their formal that night, and I was supposed to be someone’s date. Obviously, I had to cancel, but when I explained everything to my date, he kept asking me if I was alright. Finally, I explained to him, what I just explained to you about my emotional fucked upedness, and he said that he “supposed” that was “coldly rational.” I guess the point I’m trying to make by telling you this story, is to illustrate how I react to the death of people I am actually close to, before I can contrast that with how I handle the news of the death of a hockey player I don’t actually know.
I don’t experience grief personally over death, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect it in other people, and I don’t worry for the emotional health of the afflicted individuals at the time. Like I said, when a hockey player dies, I don’t try to imagine his family or friends, but instead allow my thoughts to drift to the hypothetical puck bunnies in his life, who I regard as the tragic figures in the loss.
There are a lot of people in the hockey community that will feel the sting of a loss like this. I imagine the player’s teammates would likely be devastated and even terrified to some degree. The fans, unfortunately, are likely little more than shocked. It doesn’t matter if they met the player and thought he was a stand up guy, or he signed their kid’s jersey. Eventually, the loss of this player to the team begins to be regarded as another mere roster move. A kind of permanent injury reserve, if you will. The puck bunnies are the ones that I really feel for.
First of all, bear in mind that I don’t define puck bunnies the same way you do. As you know, I’ve studied them in depth and have identified several different types of puck bunnies which are all unique in their own ways. To me they aren’t all simply 15 year old girls in pink jerseys, holding suggestive signs down by the bench.
There is only really one type of puck bunny that I reflect on in these situations, and in my mind, she has a face. She is the puck bunny that is actually known to the player, and has gotten so close she could almost taste the wedding cake and feel the hundreds of pairs of Louboutins he’ll indulge her with on her feet. Maybe they dated for a while, or maybe they got down to it a few times, but whatever it was that actually happened, this player ruined her for all other men. To the puck bunny, the hockey player is the ultimate dream guy. Once you’ve succeeded with one, normal guys just don’t measure up. Hockey players are kind of like Lays potato chips – bet you can’t eat just one…
But I’m painting the wrong picture of this girl. I don’t mean for these facts to make her sound villainous. In my mind, she always looks the same. She’s a tall brunette with perfect hair, and a model face. And the good kind of model, too, not that horsey type with the offensive cheek bones. She’s always in her white underwear, which is odd considering that I personally never wear anything that isn’t black, red, or leopard print. I’m not sure why I picture her in her underwear, but I think it’s to illustrate her ridiculously perfect body. You may say that she sounds like a dream girl, and physically, she probably is, but there is one tragic flaw about her. Some part of her that you can’t see on the outside that has caused her to fall short of the mark despite the fact that she probably looks better than 90% of the hockey wives out there. It’s something that has made her unlovable or unworthy of the WAG title, which she can’t understand because in her mind she had done everything right. Played hard to get. Didn’t sleep with him on the first date. All the things the gospel according to Cosmo told her would guarantee success with any man.
I always see her in the same tiny bedroom. The lights are off, so everything in her room is cast in a blueish gray shadow. She has a double bed that takes up most of the room with a very comfortable looking duvet on top. A mere two feet from her bed is a vanity with a huge mirror, which she likely sits at for hours trying to make herself look the part of the trophy wife. She paces the room out of sheer panic, as she attempts to process the news and sort through the array of emotions that are ripping through her body. This player was her reason for being, and now he was gone. After all she had done, and all she had plotted and pined for, she was forced to throw in the towel. He was gone.
After pacing for a while, she finally sits down on the bed in defeat. She is completely alone as she deals with the harsh fact that she was never his, and he was never hers. And despite how creepy and obsessive this sounds, please understand the player likely did feel something for her at some point. She is sincerely devastated by the loss, and experiences an indescribable sorrow as she mourns the things that never were. The reason I feel for this girl, and who knows how many of these girls exist over the course of the life of a hockey player, is because she isn’t granted the right to mourn as the other people are in the hockey player’s life. He could have spent every free minute he had with her, but she’d never be invited to the funeral, and the rest of the world, as it is in the land of hockey, doesn’t understand, and would regard her as just another puck bunny slut who spread her legs because he played hockey. And since puck bunnies are regarded as abominations to pretty much everyone in the hockey world, she will have no one to talk to about her grief out of fear of making him look bad. If she was his girlfriend on paper people would fawn all over her, which makes me angry. Hockey fans don’t want to acknowledge that some puck bunnies actually play a bigger role in the lives of the hockey players than they’d care to admit. I can only imagine how totally alone and worthless she’d feel. The hockey community is a very cruel place for girls like her.
I’m not really sure why I immediately think of this fictitious girl every time I hear about the untimely death of a hockey player. I guess in my quest to understand everything there is to understand about puck bunnies, I didn’t stop to consider how they would handle a tragic event like this. And I suppose all I can do is theorize about this until I actually meet a puck bunny known to a player that has died because I can’t personally relate. Thankfully (?) all the hockey players that have been in and out of my life are still alive and playing hockey.
Once again I am in no way insinuating anything about the personal lives of Derek Boogaard or Rick Rypien. I didn’t know them personally, and I don’t really subscribe to online gossip and rumours. The tragic passings of these two young guns have simply given me something to think about over the summer, and nothing more.
R.I.P. Derek Boogaard.
R.I.P. Rick Rypien.