Friday, August 21, 2009

Da Count - J.P. Couvrette


Yet another wonderful person was taken away from the world at much too young of an age. I learned with great sadness yesterday that an old buddy from high school, J.P. Couvrette, passed away this week at the age of 41. He leaves behind his wife and young girls along with many other loving family, friends and students whose lives he enriched.

My heart aches for their loss.

Though it has been a couple of decades since I have spent any time with JP -- it just happens that when you grow up and move out of your home town you fall out of touch with so many people who were a central fixture in your lives -- I am tremendously sad.

A relatively recent picture of JP I liberated from his sister Laura's Facebook page

But I thought I'd spend a bit of time reflecting on JP and my memories of him and how he, in fact, inspired me in my writing without ever really knowing.

I met JP through the realms of Northern Ontario hockey and school. I didn't really get to know him until high school. JP was a year ahead of me in high school, but I was lucky enough to be in at least one actual class with him when I took Grade 13 English while I was in Grade 12. JP and I sat together, joked around a lot and made fun of everyone who only listened to top forty music but didn't expand their musical horizons. We shared a huge fondness for a lot of different classic rock and were particularly passionate about the older Genesis music and Rush. JP had an infectious sense of fun about him as well as way to make everyone laugh. He was easy-going, loved to tease and inspired hilarity wherever he went. I absolutely loved that about him.

One of the other things I remember JP being so avidly fond of was fishing. When I was in Grade 12 I was editor of the high school newspaper, The Gully Gazette (our high school, Levack District High School, was pretty much in a in a large "hole" so it was a fitting name for the long-running paper). After long talks with JP, I convinced him to write a regular column for the paper called "The Fishing Hole" -- he used the pseudonym "The Poisson" (Poisson being French for fish). He did a fantastic job conveying his passion and skill within the realms of fishing and offering his expert advice.

I probably spent the most time with JP when he, John Ellis and I worked at Fox Lake Lodge on weekends, during March break and various other times when we weren't in school over the course of our senior years in high school. We did various maintenance jobs for the lodge grounds, ran the maple sugar bush lines in the late winter/early spring, and had an absolute blast. JP came up with the saying: "Laurie is always saving our ass!" -- which is a phrase he used a lot. And it's true that Laurie Blake, the owner of the lodge WAS always saving our collective asses -- we were, after all, three teens prone to making a lot of mistakes, from stringing maple lines down the wrong side of the hill to almost flipping the truck while hauling a trailer-load full of wood down a sharp steep corner hill. Just when hell was about to break lose, usually due to some decision one of the three of us made, Laurie would show up and saved the day -- thus, "save our ass" as JP so wonderfully phrased it.

In the cabin we stayed in, John took the bedroom on his own, while JP and I shared the bunk beds in the other room. I was on the top bunk while he was below. We spent many nights, after having sat around gabbing, telling jokes and stories, talking well into the wee hours of the night.

I have such fond memories of the pleasure of getting to know JP in that way, but there are also a couple of other things about those long-into-the-early morning hour chats that have stayed with me.

JP used to talk in his sleep and have strange nightmares. There were times when I woke to him yelling strange things, once kicking madly at the top bunk and almost throwing me off the mattress -- when he woke he said he'd been dreaming that we were working at the lodge and throwing stuff into a large garbage compactor, that he'd fallen in and I was crushing him. Another time he woke convinced I was hanging over the side of the bunk and shining a flashlight into his eyes. He accused me of this in the pitch blackness of a moonless night. It took me almost ten minutes to convince him it must have just been a dream. I found it fascinating that no matter what his nightmare was, I was often pulled into them.

Usually after one of his nightmares, we both laid awake, too freaked out to get back to sleep and talked endlessly about dreams, nightmares and sleep-walking. From those conversations, I developed the plotline to a novel that I started writing back in the late 1980's and which I have been kicking around on the back burner for all these years, returning to it every few years to chip away and modify it. Originally called "Perchance to Dream" it was about 3 teens working at a lodge in Northern Ontario (pretty original, huh?) -- one of them, who is sensitive to a long-hidden dark entity that exists on the lodge grounds, starts dreaming about this entity -- soon, it begins invading the dreams of all three of them and feeding on their unique fears to gain access into their world. I since have changed the working title of the novel in progress to "Night Terrors" -- I have even alluded to it in a novel that I HAVE completed called "Morning Son" which is set in the same area but haven't yet sold to a publisher. The whole novel's plot and storyline and character sketches for "Night Terrors" are completed, but it's only about three quarters finished. I might never finish it, but it's been a fun project to return to and work on and I have JP to thank for inspiration for it.

One other inspiration he gave me relates to those late evening chats. We used to tell each other ghost stories around the fire. But one night, while we were laying there after one of his nightmares, JP pointed out the haunting call of a loon on the nearby lake and told me a ghost story about an old indian warrior called "Old Crooked Neck" - I can't remember the details, other than that "Old Crooked Neck" was hung in a tree in the woods and the call of the loon was a warning to those who killed him that he was coming back to get his revenge.

Needless to say, I didn't sleep a wink that night. While JP eventually settled back down and went to sleep, I laid there completely frozen in fear every time a loon called out in the blackness of the night. I was terrified that "Old Crooked Neck" was coming to get us.

That long, sleepless night has stuck with me all these years.

It stuck with me so much that I ended up using it twice in two different stories I have had published.

I first used it in my short story "Erratic Cycles" which I wrote in the late 1990's -- almost ten years after JP scared the shit out of me with his story. In "Erratic Cycles" a lawyer traveling on Highway 144 in Northern Ontario (ironically not all that far from where Fox Lake Lodge is located), gets stranded on the side of the highway. The isolation brings back a childhood memory of being lost in the woods at night and of the "Bush People" who announce their presence in a call not unlike the haunting call of a loon through the darkness.

"Erratic Cycles" was first published in Parsec magazine in 1999, went on to be nominated for an Aurora Award in 2000 for "Best Short Form English" -- I didn't win the award, but am delighted that I lost to the brilliantly talented Robert J. Sawyer who won in both that category as well as Best Long Form for his novel Flashforward (which, interestingly, is now being turned into a highly anticipated television show premiering this fall on ABC).

"Erratic Cycles" was reprinted in 2004 in my book One Hand Screaming, and you can read the full story online from a link on my One Hand Screaming website.

I used JP's "loon call in the night" concept one more time in an anthology published earlier this year. Northern Haunts, edited by Tim Deal contains 100 Terrifying New England Tales -- all the stories in the book contain short stories meant to be read around a campfire -- it includes my story "The Shadow Men" -- a riff on the "Bush People" from "Erratic Cycles" I wanted to tell a story featuring that haunting call of the loon again, something I STILL couldn't get out of my head thanks to JP, so I crafted it specifically after seeing the call for submissions for this wonderful book by Shroud Publishing.

I'm likely not done writing stories inspired by my time spent with JP, which is, I hope, evidence of the lasting impression he has made on me as a person and as a writer. And though it has been a long time since JP and I spent time together, I will always cherish how fortunate I am for having gotten to know him, for the countless laughs and dreams we shared and, of course, for how he has continued to inspire me in my creative pursuits.

Goodbye, my friend. You did make the world a better place for having been in it -- I know you certainly enriched my life as well as the lives of so many others. You will be missed, and continued to be held in high regard. Godspeed, JP, and good fishing -- may you have found peace, comfort and an eternally stocked fishing hole as your reward for all the greatness you brought to your friends and family over the years.


lecram said...

A great and wonderful count, my friend. I am sorry for your loss... though it is evident that his essence will be with you for a very long time.

katelinmoniz said...

I knew JP Couvrette personally and thought he was an amazing guy. He was my teacher for history and civics. He actually had to leave half way through the semester of teaching my class last year due to his illness and finding treatment for him.

He was by far one of my favourite teachers. He had a passion for teaching, learning, his students, and most of all.. life. He had a technique to teaching, he always made a way to find learning fun with unique ways to get our attention and to teach us lessions. (I remember he would talk in slang to make us laugh.. he knew it would make him more cool, haha) He was always optimistic and could always find a way to make things better. "Couvey" was definitely popular amongst the student body, everyone liked and had great respect for him. He's helped me personally in so many ways and has effected many other peoples lives as well as mine.

I'll miss him so much.
He was a wonderful person and I will never, ever forget him.
we won't forget, "Couvey" .

Mark Leslie said...

Lecram - thanks. I felt it was only natural to use your weekly meme to "count" memories of JP as one of my blessings

Kate - I'm not at all surprised to hear JP was such a great teacher, nor that his students referred to him as "Couvey." Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories about him -- I can just picture how his playful manner and love of life inspired so many students.

Genevieve said...

I had JP as a swimming instructor about 15 years ago, and he mad such an impact on me that I eventually became a Lifeguard and swimming instructor myself. Then in '04 (my final year of highschool) he showed up at OD as a teacher. I never had him as a teacher in highschool, but from what I saw of him in the halls, he still had that energy that inspired me all those years ago. Thank you Mark for shedding some insight into a wonderful man's life.

Tara said...

JP was a swimming teacher of mine and then my boss at the Orillia YMCA for 9 years. Such an amazing guy! I didn't know he had become a teacher at OD but I am sure he was amazing. He must have accomplished so much here that he was needed elsewhere. My thoughts to his family!

Nick said...

Even though I only had JP for roughly half a semester (I was in his final civics class) I feel really privileged to have been taught by him. He was one fo those rare teachers that connected well with their students, and even after he left, when he came back for visits, I was him roughly three weeks before school let out - and all he could do was joke. Its people like Mr.couvrette that make learning fun, and kids want to go to school.

Laurie said...

I just heard of J.P.'s passing. Your words so perfectly described "who&what J.P.was and who he will forever be in our memories. I share your sadnees and grieve with all.

Mark Leslie said...

Gen, Tara, Nick - thanks for sharing memories of this phenomenal teacher. Glad to read how he inspired students.

Laurie - Nice to hear from you. Thanks so much for saving our butts so many times over the years. You were a great boss and mentor. You should also know that the ghost stories you told around the campfire were also among my fondest (and scariest) memories.

Laura Couvrette-Nantau said...

Hi Mark,

If you ever finish that novel - I would love to buy a copy. I miss my brother. He was an incredibly complex person but with simple loves.

It makes me proud as his sister to know that so many people cared for JP and recognized his unique approach to life.

I would love the opportunity to recognize him in your book one day.

Mark Leslie said...

Laura, if I ever finish that novel, you'll be among the first people to get a copy. Of course, any character I would have based on your brother could still never live up to the wonderful man he was. :)

Anonymous said...

I was a student of his... He always new when i had a hard day and e he would always make me smile. As I read this article i felt a hand on my shoulder and i began to cry, I'll miss ya big guy.