Monday, October 15, 2012

Brother in Arms

The first thing I thought when I saw that Nerf sword was, "Oh, Michael's going to FREAK OUT."

My friend, Michael O'Connor Clarke, died yesterday of esophageal cancer. He was young, he left behind a young family, he was brilliant, he was generous, I loved him, it's terrible and sad and I feel like crying all the time.

But then I think of the look in his eyes when he saw the swords, and I can't help but chuckle a bit.

Michael was a writer, a marketing wiz, a tireless supporter of the Toronto technology and startup scene. There's posts all over memorializing his contributions there, his work with the HoHoTO charity event, all the wonderful things he accomplished in his far-too-short life.

But when I think of Michael, I think of the swordfights. The most exciting, most hilarious swordfights I've ever been in.

Michael fenced -- sabre, mostly. I study Japanese swordsmanship. When we learned that we shared a fascination with long sharp bits of steel, our friendship was sealed. We compared notes, shared favourite swordfight scenes from movies, and planned to write a blog reviewing swordfighting in movies (I registered the domain, but we never got a post written).

I didn't buy that Nerf sword. I bought two. Damn straight. One for me, and one for Michael. I brought them to the office, sat down and sent an IM to Michael: "I've got a sword in my pocket, and you're gonna be happy to see me."

And we fought. That first duel was the first in what became a highly-anticipated series in the FreshBooks office (yes we were SWORDFIGHTING at work). Michael was fast, accurate and careful -- he fought just like he talked, just like he wrote, with wit and energy and just a crackle of danger.

We ranged up and down the office, dodging coat-racks, printers and other people's desks as our blades weaved and blurred back and forth. We'd square off, and then I'd see that twinkle in his eye and my hands would tense, always too late, and I'd feel the quick tap-tap of his blade on my wrist or shoulder as he tagged me.

I'd come at him with a big swirling loop of the blade, cutting a wide arc, and he'd just inch back, let the blade sail past, and lunge back in, grinning like a mad Irishman, and tap-tap again.

I lay awake at night, reviewing the fight in my head, trying to figure out a tactic that would defeat his quick wits and cool-headed poise. And come at him again the next day, full of fury and fire and determination that this time--

tap-tap

Oh, Michael, even after you left FreshBooks I never stopped thinking about how to beat you. You made me better, smarter, and faster. I cannot express how sorry I am that you're gone, how diminished my world is without you and your smart-alec swordsmanship.

Michael was all the sorts of wonderful things a great man is. He was wise and witty and warm. Loved and loveable.

I remember him most as a swordsman. My brother in arms.