But I was fast. Being a small and flexible, I could crouch and my knees were effective shock absorbers, shooting me past those big guys. And because I was blind, I was fearless. It was just a matter of steering toward the ‘not so black parts’ to avoid the trees and rocks. I was invited back.
The next time, Todd was out for blood. He followed close behind me and I couldn’t shake him. There was a confusing crash involving me flying through the air, searing pain in my elbow and Todd running to me laughing, asking if I was okay. For months, maybe a year, I had a shooting pain whenever I straightened my elbow, and I’d think, “Fucking Todd!” That's my earliest memory of Todd Jenkins.
At his celebration of life, several people mentioned Todd’s intense, unwavering look. Being cocky, my instinct had been to take it on as a challenge. Are you REALLY looking at me as much as I am looking at YOU? How much of this is a front? What’s underneath? Todd was an intelligent, quiet observer. So was I. Game on, I thought. In some ways, our early friendship was like a 2 year-long staring contest, watching for potential inconsistencies. Are you really who you say you are? But it wasn’t all intensity. I loved needling him, shaking things up. Meagan Shelley and I plotted and kidnapped Todd on his 27th birthday. He staged a mock-suicide with my pink teddy bear in my apartment while I was out of town. In turn, I acquired his favourite childhood stuffy and put it in an equally terrible situation. We played Dungeons & Dragons and usually ended up laughing our heads off. It wasn’t always serious with Todd, but it was always smart.
People have assumed that I was friends with Todd because of music, but that ‘s only minimally true. I was just starting to delve more seriously into bluegrass banjo so it was a very separate track from Todd’s emerging punk band, but we were both starting to write songs and consider lyrics and riffs. We’d be on the floor at his place or mine with instruments lying around and show each other what we were working on. We listened to each other’s music and each gave a silent nod of approval, but I don’t think either of us knew enough about the others’ genre to give any constructive criticism. Just mutual respect.
When Todd moved to Vancouver his was my primary floor to crash on, but later I left Williams Lake, made other friends, and we lost touch for a few years. I sunk deeper into bluegrass and started recording my first CD. One day, around 2008, I got a random email in my myspace account from the Rebel Spell:
“Every so often, I visit your page late at night, listen to Howl Away, and cry myself to sleep.”
For the first time, we each showed a bit of vulnerability. Like a dog rolling over, exposing its belly. He had reached out. We entered a new phase of our friendship. We only saw each other every few years after that, but it was always really good to see him. He showed up unannounced at one of my first shows in Vancouver. I came to a Rebel Spell show when I was in town. I can’t say I looked up to Todd exactly, but I knew he’d keep me in check. Seeing him was like staring into a mirror: Have you thought thoroughly about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it? Are you living according to the values you say you have? Looking back, this was the actual backbone of our relationship.
The last time I saw Todd, he and the band were passing through Ottawa. We shared stories about Fred Eaglesmith’s veggie bus, the outrageous story of how Liberia was formed, the twisted racial origins of Appalachian music. After we hugged goodbye, I saw him for the first time in the morning light, standing on the lower step. “Wait a second,” I said, and leaned in for closer inspection. Todd bent his head forward, concerned or curious. “You’ve got some white hairs,” I grinned. Todd snapped back and we were back to our age-old rivalry. “Yeah, well I saw some white hairs on you too!” he exclaimed with his snarky grin. As he left, I felt sure that we’d continue to run into each other every few years, keeping tabs on each other for the rest of our lives.
Looking through the great diversity of amazing photos taken through his life, a part of me is really angry that there will be no pictures of silver-haired Todd, face-with-deeper-lines Todd, mellow-ing-out-with-old-age Todd. I really, really wanted to see who that person was going to be. I loved our discussions about politics, morality, and the meaning of life and I feel cheated that I won’t get to hear his thoughts on the world as a middle aged and older man. But mostly, I am grateful for having met Todd and enjoyed many years of his friendship. Though I didn’t get to see him a lot in the last several years, it was just good knowing that someone like him existed out there (Footnote: and attending his celebration of life, I was reminded that there are a lot of people like him that still are). He was truly unique among all the people I have met, and his memory will continue to inspire me.