During the following months, Brett and I kept in regular contact by phone and email. One time, he handed the phone to Candy.
"She sounds really cool," I told Brett afterward, "a helluva lot more mature than the chicks we normally hang with. It's the way she talks--her maturity. And does she have a sexy voice or what?"
"Calm down. You'll give yourself a hernia."
"You got one yet?"
"Hey, mate, listen up. Candy and I talked about maybe getting some time off work, and we can both rock over to Byron in December."
"You serious? Woohoooooo! That would be awesome!"
"I'll let you know our plans next time I call. See ya, mate."
"Wait! I forgot to tell you--I had a really cool dawn patrol with my dad the other day. We hadn't done that in ages, and it was sooooo awesome. It was great to see him relax a bit because he's been kinda stressed lately."
"Your dad's a top bloke, Kyle. Tell him I often think of him and your mom for always treating me like a son. I owe them big time."
So the big surprise is that I'm going to varsity to study marine bio. Yep! I've been keeping my acceptance as a surprise from everyone, even you. The only other person who knows is my dad because he had to sign the damn papers. Otherwise, it would have been a surprise for him as well. I think my mom is gonna be pretty stoked about it. Her little baby going out into the big wide world. So am I raving or what? Hehehehe. Okay, so I'm a little excited. Live with it. Have a cool 2002 `cause I know I am.
December 16, 2001. A note from John, a friend of Kyle:
This is the hardest correspondence I've ever had to write and I hope you understand, once you read it, why it has taken so long.
Kyle was involved in a very serious motor accident during the early hours of Saturday, November 3. He hitched a ride home after enjoying a few drinks with his work mates, a sort of end-of-year celebration before going to college. The car crashed at 160 kph. He was admitted to hospital and underwent emergency surgery. His injuries were incredibly serious and he never regained consciousness. He passed away a few hours after surgery.
I wish there were something more comforting I could say to you because I know that you have lost a son, at least that is always the impression I always gained from you, and most certainly from Kyle who loved you so incredibly. So no, I don't know how you must feel at learning this terrible news so I will refrain from the cliché.
A memorial service was held for Kyle, attended by hundreds of his friends, including Rick who arrived from Canada on the day of the service. He and Brett read the tributes, which was more than I could bear so I left the service at that stage.
A private cremation was held and Kyle's ashes were scattered on Sunday, November 18.
Rick delivers his eulogy at the memorial service, attended by Kyle's school friends, the swim team, work mates and even the junior swimmers he helped coach. Also in attendance are Kyle's folks, the folks of his friends, Graham, Stuart, Melanie, Susan and Brett:
Hi, excuse me if I ramble a bit. It was very difficult to try to find something special to say about Kyle. Everything he did and everything he was, was special to all of us, not only his family and friends, but also his school mates and neighbors.
Kyle was the first real friend I had. We met as toddlers, and became closer than brothers over the years. We could take the worst situation and turn it around. He taught me to appreciate everything around me. He had a passion for the outdoors. We used to go to the top of Wollumbin together just to sit and watch the world below us. He was a friend in his laughter as well as in his silences. He could manipulate those around him to do the most outrageous things. On one of our hiking trips, when the summer sun was beating down, he convinced all of us to walk along the trail with nothing on our backs except our backpacks, naked as day, to act innocently whenever a couple walked by and didn't know where on earth to look. Kyle was a fun-loving person with an infectious sense of adventure.
Rick paused at that point to wait for the congregation's laughter to subside.
Kyle was on the school swim team, and pushed himself harder than any of us. He even wrote an essay about going to the 2000 Sydney Olympics and winning a medal. It was a story he wrote as an inspiration to himself. Was he disappointed that he never got to compete at the Olympics? No, because he knew there would be plenty more opportunities over the next hill.
Everyone here was and is touched by Kyle in some way or other. Whether you were school buddy or on the swim team, or hiking or surfing, or a work mate, you were all his friends. Kyle gave his friendship to all of us unconditionally, no strings attached. We could take it or leave it. Not all of us understood what that meant.
I remember Kyle spending many of his school breaks, when he wasn't swimming, in the computer lab at school. He was catching up with his internet friends around the world. On days when the system was down, he was mad as hell. I told him that he was crazy and that those friends weren't real. But to Kyle, they were as real as you and me in this room. Friends were very important to him. If his friends were in need, Kyle made sure those needs were met. Kyle was also tough. He didn't tolerate bullies, a few of whom discovered the hard way to what lengths Kyle would go to protect his friends or the little guys at school.
Time was something Kyle had for everyone. Some days, when the surf crapped out, he went down to the beach to sit on the rocks and talk to the fisher folks. Often, he took food with him and ate with them. He took the time to talk to the juniors at school, or the hobo on the street, and absorb what they had to say.
Kyle had a great love for his folks. Where a lot of guys his age wouldn't be seen dead going out with their parents, Kyle thrived on it. He enjoyed the closeness of being in a restaurant with his mom and dad, sharing thoughts and stories. His dad and he loved to tease the waitresses while his mom wished she could find a place to hide. Kyle's folks became folks to his friends. Kyle's home was our home, Kyle's room was our room, and being at his home gave me some of my most wonderful memories. Kyle kept a spare mattress permanently in his room for his friends when they slept over, which was often.
There is a rule that Kyle lived by: to hug and kiss his folks whenever he was about to go out. It was a rule his mom gave him, just in case you never see that person again.
On the Friday morning before Kyle left for work at the surf shop, when he would normally say to his mom, "see ya", he strangely said, "cheers, mom. Loveya."
For all of us there will be a piece of our lives missing, and a sadness knowing that we will never see Kyle smiling again. I know that he is with us now. He will be in the surf and on the mountain, and he will be looking out for us like he always did.
Christmas is just around the corner, and I'd like to leave you with this thought about my friend: His gift to all of us is the most wonderful memories that anyone could ever hope for. It's a gift to last a lifetime, one that will bring smiles to our faces and a warm feeling to our hearts. We can all be thankful for knowing Kyle in some way or other. We are richer for having known him, and he will live in our hearts forever. I'm going to end with one of Kyle's favorite quotes: "Loveya stacks."
Rest in peace, bro. Loveya stacks.
Brett now takes the stand.
I just want to say a few words about my friend Kyle. I want to tell Mr and Mrs Taranto that all our thoughts are with them always, and I want to thank them publicly for taking me into their home and treating me like a son.
I'll tell you how special my friend was. When other people wrote me off, and I was on a road to ruin, Kyle walked into my life. It was a rocky start. We tried to beat each other up at school. I realized then that Kyle was dangerously courageous. Nonetheless, I was determined to beat him up and show him who was boss. How do you beat a spirit that won't die?
After one of my many street-fight encounters, I landed in hospital. The only person from school who visited my bed was Kyle. Even then, I didn't appreciate him. I didn't trust his motives. Maybe he was there to smirk, I thought.
Back at school, I began to accept his friendship with a degree of suspicion. But as I got to know him better, I realized he was gutsier than I'd given him credit for. He was like a dog with a bone, and worked diligently at winning me over. However, I remained stubborn and suspicious.
As our friendship developed, I grew to understand the enormous capacity for love that Kyle had; not just for people. He love Wollumbin, which he called his mountain. He had a passion for the sea, in which he spent a great deal of his life. Most of all, he demonstrated great love for his family and friends. Some of us were closer to Kyle than others, and my heart goes out to Graham, Rick, Stuart and Melanie. We knew Kyle probably better than most, besides his folks.
Kyle shared a love that has no measure. And I will forever be in his debt. God help me if Kyle hadn't fought his way into my life. He gave me lessons of life, and memories I will hold dear for as long as I live, memories I will treasure with every breath I take.
So how do you beat a spirit that refuses to die? You don't. You take it with both hands, put your arms around it and love it with all your heart.
We love you, Kyle. Enjoy your new green room, mate.
A note from Stuart:
This took a while to write but I know you understand. Sunday before last we scattered Kyle's ashes behind the back line at the `local'. It was difficult to say the least. The group consisted of Mr T, Graham, Rick, Brett, Melanie, a few other surf friends and me. It was one of those magic mornings that Kyle enjoyed on his dawn patrols, so I know that, along with everything else, this was even more difficult for his dad. Kyle's mom declined to be at the beach. You can imagine why.
Oh, my fuck, this is so hard to write. It's like I can see the whole ceremony happening again, right now.
Mr T wanted Graham to paddle the ashes out, but the grommet simply couldn't comply. The little dude cried his eyes out the whole time, which certainly didn't help my self-control. Mr T's eyes teared all the while and I don't know how he managed to stay relatively composed.
Brett volunteered to carry the ashes. I'd seen him paddle before and I fully expected him to drop the ashes on the shoreline. But it was like he felt Kyle was there with him so he took it slow and easy all the way, and paddled like a pro. The ambience was exceptionally quiet. The surf was gentle, with glassy rollers more than anything else. The temperature was quite warm so none of us wore wetsuits. No one said a word on the way out. It was my first time in the surf since the accident and I kind of expected to see Kyle paddling out next to me, chirping his normal bullshit. I think that was the hardest thing for me, not seeing Kyle out on his stick.
We followed Mr T to the backline, then sat silently on our boards. Graham earned a lot of respect from all the guys at that moment because we were like sitting on our boards not knowing what to do next. He piped up and said, "Hey, what's with all the sad faces? That's bullshit! That's not how Kyle would've wanted this to be!"
Then Brett told us the story about the time he first befriended Kyle, the time in hospital, the fights they had, and how they used to laugh together. That was the bitterest pill to swallow; Kyle laughed almost all of the time, when he wasn't shoving his fist into my face or someone else's.
Mr T took the ashes from Brett and scattered them. That action was so final and fucked up, it was more than any of us could handle. Graham paddled away from the group and sat, staring at the sea. Rick, Brett and I paddled over to the little bloke and sat with him, gazing at the rollers and the horizon, wondering ... well, you know.
The T's are handling it okay now--as well as anyone could expect them to. Christmas is going to be the hardest time for them as well as everyone else, but the T's are pretty strong. We all visit them often and I think they appreciate that. They put on a brave show when I visit. Graham almost camps at the house, and spends a lot of time in Kyle's room, which is exactly as he left it.
Kyle has the final word:
This afternoon, when I was out there catching barrels, there was this one--I'm gonna remember it for a long time. Another guy and I were surfing when this massive set came through. We paddled like crazy to avoid getting nailed. This one wave came along and the other guy turned to me and said, "Hey, mate! Catch it or you're gonna get drilled!"
All I could see in front of me was this huge wall of water building up over my head, and the other guy paddling furiously to get over the shoulder. I knew he was right about the danger of getting drilled. There was no way I could sub deep enough to avoid it pulling me down.
I turned just in the nick of time and felt the wave lift me. I pushed down on my stick and stood up right away, then put weight down on my front foot--my left one because I ride natural--and then I felt the drop. Whoa!
I turned halfway down the wave because I could sense the lip hovering over my head. It was huge! I could choose to ride over the back at that point because I had so much speed, but I was so fucking amped to take the risk--it was so damn big and fast!
Then I saw it peaking in front of me and I knew I was gonna get nailed to hell and gone. I pushed and went in under the lip. It was like being in the middle of a hurricane--the wind was loud and the sound of the wave was loud. Then, suddenly, everything went dead quiet--just the soft whooshing sound of my board. I was in the green room! The fucking green room, man! I was in it!
I was surrounded by this huge tunnel of water and it felt way awesome! It couldn't have lasted for more than a few seconds but it seemed like ages, like a time warp that telescopes seconds into minutes.
And you know what happened, G? I got this huge lump in my throat and wished that you were there with me to see it. Then it closed out and put me into the washing machine.
When I surfaced, the other guy was screaming at the top of his voice. He raved! I told him it was better than any wave I'd ever caught before.
Damn, it was weird. Ya know, G, if you rap with the guys, the ones who catch a lot of barrels, there's always one that seems more special than any other. That was it for me.
I hope you enjoyed reading the free version of Green Room, and fell in love with the characters just as I did. If you would like to express your gratitude, send a few dollars via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org Author-Gary Kelly.