Oh, Charlie Srour. Goddamn.
For the first time, my little hockey family has lost somebody forever. It was only a few months ago that Charlie and I were shooting the shit, pre-dev league. Big Charlie, with his usual goofy grin, trying to convince me that, as a Lebanese-Russian, he was the toughest guy on the ice. An ethnic combination that definitely deserved respect. Me pointing out that as the direct descendent of a Van Diemen’s Land convict, and of Scottish heritage, I had some claims too, even if things did go a little wrong at Culloden all those years ago when the Scots took on the English.
This entire debate flying against the fact that Charlie was the most likely to be caught grinning happily mid-game, from the sheer joy of being out there on the ice. Charlie nothing but a gentle giant at all times. He was that guy who was always laughing, always hanging shit, always had eyes shining with the joy of being alive. That guy. A guy you loved being around and who you were happy to see walk into a change room. A giant ball of positive energy and laughter.
The day after that dev league game, my favourite Lebbo-Ruskie hockey player went into Monash Medical Centre for tests and didn’t immediately come out.
After a couple of weeks, I messaged him, saying I needed to step clear of our usual verbal sledging and trashtalking for a moment to ask a serious question: WTF? He wrote back, saying that he’d been unwell, mostly fatigued, for months and now they were running all kinds of tests. “I’m fine and could play hockey except for the fact I am yellow,” he wrote in typical breezy Charlie fashion. “I miss the sledging …”
“There’ll be time for sledging,” I replied, equally breezily.
Hockey folk who play regularly at Oakleigh would drop by and post pics of them goofing around, and the pics would include that brilliant Charlie smile, but in the unusual surround of a hospital ward instead of the Icehouse. Somebody found the worst possible photo they could – of Charlie gobbling like a turkey – and printed it so we could insert his face, like Dicky Knee in Hey Hey It’s Saturday into any social occcasion or hockey-related event. Rookies phoned him the pics. It was a temporary Charlie, filling his place until he got out of hospital.
Except that he didn’t. They found what he called “the suspicion of cancer” on his liver, along with other damage to that organ, and an operation was set up, to remove half the liver and to be followed by a long period of recuperation for regeneration. Except that he kept turning back into a Simpsons character, all yellow skin, his own body poisoning itself, and the op was put off several times. He messaged of his frustration and concern turned to real worry on the part of his friends. I can’t imagine how sick with fear his family and girlfriend must have been by now.
I’d sent him a copy of my new novel to read, to fill the hospital hours, and he messaged me at one point to say he hadn’t been able to read it for a few days because “I’ve been pretty crook.” I sensed the understatement in the words.
The op happened. All went quiet. We assumed he was in ICU, starting the long road to recovery. His mother posted photos of prayer candles. We all held our collective breath.
What none of us expected was that Charles’ girlfriend would post on his Facebook wall yesterday that he hadn’t survived beyond 7.41 pm on New Year’s Day. At the time of writing, I have no idea what went wrong; whether it was the tricky operation Charles didn’t survive or the illness that put him under the knife in the first place. It doesn’t matter, I suppose. The only thing that counts right now is that Charlie won’t be back among his Spitfire Fighter teammates, won’t be at dev league, won’t be at our usually impromptu dinners or drinks or sharing a post-game drink in the car park, or a Big M at crazy hours at a Footscray service station. Won’t be living the happy, smiling life that he was leading, pictured endlessly pulling faces or hamming it up (if you’re a Facebook friend of Charlie, check out the “gorilla love” photo), or hanging off his girlfriend Emma’s arm, both of them laughing.
I’ve written several times on this blog about death and here is yet another example of the truth: you don’t know how long you’ve got, peoples, so live while you can.
Charlie is a young death, and one that is very hard to find positives in. A friend of mine died in a car accident at the age of 21 and his death had the same feeling: that it couldn’t be positively spun, that it couldn’t be shrugged off as “oh well, she was old” or “he had a good innings”. Charlie was indisputably too young to go, had his whole life ahead of him. Had so many countless hours to skate, chase a puck, get married, have children, see the world, do all the things that we hope for in our life.
We’ve had others leave the hockey world; drifting back into non-hockey life so that it’s only later that you realise you haven’t seen them for a while. There was Renee, skating to ward off a serious health issue and bravely getting back up after every fall, and there was a woman who left the ice crying after performing a Superman, but landing hard on her chest (the female equivalent of being kicked in the balls, I’ve been reliably informed) and never returned. There was a dev leaguer who was helped off the ice with a broken ankle and who I haven’t seen since, now I think of it.
You hold out the hope that they’ll turn up one day for class, or to watch the Melbourne Ice or Mustangs; returned for us to say hi to. To find out that their life is going well, and they’re having new adventures, even if they’re not part of the crazy Melbourne hockey rookies ride anymore.
Charlie’s death has a bottomless permanence to it and is proving very hard to digest, 12 hours after hearing the news, even if we’d all feared the worst since the dreaded medical c-word was mentioned in association with his liver. Under any scenario, it hadn’t occurred to me he wouldn’t be here beyond the dawn of 2013, and I simply can’t imagine what his family and close friends must be going through.
All I could say to them is that, as a parent, my heart aches so much that it could burst. I am so sorry for their loss.
I was only a bit player in Charlie’s life, somebody who occasionally skated and laughed on the same block of frozen water in Oakleigh or the Melbourne Docklands. In the movie of his life, I’d be one of those unspoken roles, at best. “Bystander at fire”, “Dog-walking guy” or “Bar room loudmouth”. If I even made the credits.
But his death has hit me hard, as it has most of my little hockey tribe, and his wider circles, going by the outpouring of grief on Facebook.
I’m assuming that my team, the Interceptors, the sister team to Charlie’s Fighters, will wear black armbands in respect of our mate when we play our next summer league game. I’m sure, knowing the passion and great minds of the hockey crew, much better tributes are being schemed.
I’m posting this from Tasmania today so am likely to miss Charlie’s funeral. I have no doubt the hockey world will be represented, and represented well.
If I’m not back in time, then I will stop, on Bruny Island or wherever I happen to be, to raise a whisky glass to a fallen friend. I’ll stare out to sea and wonder yet again why some are cut down and others aren’t. Especially why somebody who was a constant source of humour, smiles, happiness and enthusiasm, a force for good, would be taken so young.
There is no explanation; that’s what you learn over the years. It is totally fucking random, and that’s why I’m going to breathe the Tasmanian air deeply, hug my lover literally like there is no tomorrow and set my usual New Year’s resolution: to live hard and energetically and hopefully, more often than not, with a smile on my face. Like Charlie did.
And damn, I’ll miss him.
To his family, and girlfriend … every condolence the universe can allow. Rest in peace, Charlie.