As popular as he was at our all-boy’s school, he was even more so at the neighbouring all-girl’s school, one of the more highly favoured (if not the most) of hang out spots when classes’ last bell rang.
Admittedly, it didn’t take much to be popular at CC, but the ability to play football put you in that stratosphere, and to play it well, as he did, blasted you well into outer space.
The girls loved the ‘ballers’ too, but handsomeness counted highly with them, and ‘Shots’ was in the upper echelon of both categories. He played the field, so to speak, at both schools, and played it masterfully. As skillful as he was on the pitch at CC, so was he silver-tongued at Mt. Alvernia High, and it was not peculiar to see him with a small group of boys or girls around him, entertaining them with his stories and jokes.
One of the first things you noticed upon meeting him though, was his smile, an infectious full-toothed grin with an accompanying twinkle from his eyes that arrested you fully from the get-go. I’d see him get girls just by smiling, and not the run of the mill hanger-on types either, but the really good-looking and beautiful ones.
Now, I don’t mean to be crass or rude, but he really ‘scored’ with the girls. In a time when asking a girl out three to five times before she even said yes was the norm, ‘Shots’ was going to the movies with one girl, and then to a party later with a different one. It was not uncommon for him to be on a date, and the young lady would be seen a little ahead waiting, while he trailed speaking to another.
Such exploits made him legendary, and admiration, adulation and alas yes, even the requisite envy followed. I remember many a vicious tackle, even in the most lighthearted scrimmage, and couldn’t help but feel they were in response to some bruised egos, and nothing to do with football. Not that he couldn’t and didn’t embarrass with his football skills either now, mind you, but you could tell when it was a ‘ball thing’ as opposed to something else completely.
It was somewhat shocking therefore, when he announced to us that he would be going steady with one girl. This young lady, as it turned out, was a celebrity in her own right, being the daughter of the town’s most honoured. They made a lovely couple, but Shots eventually returned to his old ways and the relationship fizzled.
A couple of months later (and a couple of girls) he again settled down, this time with a young lady who was bright, articulate and determined to hold her own, and one who would brook no nonsense from him. The relationship was fiery, the both of them stubborn and demanding, and this led to Shots’ best friend stepping in time and again as a buffer or a referee, whichever was needed.
This is where things took a turn for the worse as the best friend and the young lady soon became an item, much to the dismay of Shots and a few of us. He, as we Jamaicans say, “took it to heart”, the betrayal, and that, although we didn’t see it for what it was then, signalled the beginning of the end of his sanity. .
At first, we teased him mercilessly, that being part and parcel of CC life, but we soon realized that he wasn’t handling it well. He also dove headlong into another habit he had NEVER handled well either, Herb smoking. It all ballooned into a full-fledged disaster at Ticka’s New Year’s Eve party 1977, when Shots climbed over the rail on the roof and refused to return, even as Foey, Ticka’s dad and one of the most commanding men we knew growing up, barked and threatened him with hell fire. I was the one who got him to come back over, and I remember Aunt Ena,Ticka’s mom and Foey’s wife, giving him sugar and water to calm him down, which did the job then.
From that time on, he was like a scratched record, smoking heavily and rehashing the betrayal, episodes from which he would take longer and longer to recover. It was at this juncture we, his true friends, made the big mistake of withholding herb from him. He then would go to any length and any place to get it, in a time when it wasn’t safe to smoke from any and every body. In retrospect, we should have kept him with us where we could control the amounts he ingested, but with our ignorance concerning mental health then, we all thought rejection would shock him back to reality. Somewhere in the mix came a trip to the 10th floor of the Cornwall Regional Hospital, and the person who made it out of that room, to this day, is only a shadow of the Anthony Martin I knew.
To make matters worse, we got the news one evening that Shots’ Mom was blaming us for his travails, as we were the ones giving her son “the dutty ganja fi smoke”.
From then on it was “hands off” for us, another of several grave mistakes in the demise of Anthony Martin. Ignorance compounding ignorance is the phrase, I believe. I remember even hiding from him on a few occasions, and curtly telling him to “get his shit together” on a few others.
A little after we left school, in the heady days of hanging out at the Royal Dainties in the environs of Coral Wall, the Library and The No.1 Post Office, he made a turnaround and we let him back into the fold. He wasn’t smoking, and he wasn’t talking to girls either. He was very serious, very intense, and asked a lot of questions, mostly about religion and the differences between Christianity and RasTafari. We were very careful not to smoke around him, and he never asked. This went on for a couple of months until the “broken record” syndrome resurfaced, with him asking the same questions over and over to different members of our group, all the while sliding back deeper and deeper into his private hell.
He would come to our Dances, bleach with us, sleeping in the Dance halls after we had packed up and gone home. It was here that he started carrying bags with him wherever he went, and when I asked him what for he said he kept a couple things in there for when he didn’t make it home. I went through a couple bouts of homelessness then, and was the benefactor of those bags on a few occasions.
I remember Walter Fletcher’s Beach being a haven for us then, with its wide open spaces and many nooks to rest in. It was while reasoning on those nights that I learnt how painful his daily reality was for him, a pain driven by shame and how he was creating that escape from it within his head. I couldn’t help but think how much he needed a change of scenery, different points of view to awaken to, a new way to a new life. He never would get that chance.
As he is now, he always makes sense to me whenever we speak. He knows where my son goes to school and he waits there for me at pickup time. He always asks about our friends, where are they and how are they doing, and about my relatives and old girlfriends. Our conversations always end with him asking for money, to which I always opt to buy him food instead, and remind him jokingly that he sometimes has more money than I do, to which he will quip, “Yeah, but you have big bank account and me no have none!”.
I will always wonder what could have been, and how all his exes feel when they see him in his current state. There is no longer the occasional dapperness, and I often have to goad him to bathe. Whenever he does I’ll tell him to put his stuff in the trunk and take him for a ride, and he always wants to dropped of close to his Mom’s house afterwards.
No matter what, I’ll always feel I could have done more for him and better by him, and I’ll always hope he conquers that hill in his mind that he’s afraid to climb.