When I was seven years old, me and my friend Tyrone had the oddest belief. We believed that there were ghosts in the trees in the small park across the street from my grandparents old wooden house on the boundary of the Musquem Nation in Vancouver, BC.
We’d go into the tiny forested park, a park due to be bulldozed, the old oak and arbutus replaced with pink stucco seven-rooms with two-car garages intended as single-family homes. People have to live somewhere. Even at seven, I was aware of this fact. I was realistic. A realistic seven year-old who talks to ghosts in the forest.
But when the ghosts were exorcised along with their homes, another exorcism happened within. It wasn’t until a decade and a half later when my neighbour Brent led me to the inner harbour in Victoria that I felt it. Brent would often talk of a time when gods walked with men, in his characteristic hazy beat of speech, this man, a dreadlocked bass player in a cover band out east driving his cherry-red convertible pig-bait.
He led me by bicycle to an old galleon moored for the tallships festival. We parked our bikes out on the dock and gazed at the spectacle before us. I had no idea a galleon would be so large in real life. No idea that it would occupy so much of the tiny harbour, or so much of my dreamspace. I was so mesmerized by the site that I barely noticed Brent was boarding the vessel.
“Leif, c’mon. It’s time.”
I looked up at him. I blinked to make sure that what I was seeing was accurate.
“Cut the rope, Leif. It’s time for our adventure to begin!”
I just looked at the man, a man older and in many ways wiser than me. A man who moved through life in his cherry-red convertible doing the things he loved to do. A man born on the wind and carried by it regardless of the limitations of our imaginations. Then I looked over at harbour security, a man who did not look fit to run after us for two minutes, a man who was obviously radioing for backup.
“Quickly Leif, we don’t have time! Cut the rope for the love of gods!”
I stood, paralyzed. I was thinking about my family. About my future children with my newlywed. About my home, my education, my student debt, everything I’d been planning for, all for naught if I ceded to the bizarre request of this man so intelligent in the cosmic flow of life he had become insane. Harbour security approached.
“Don’t fail me, no!”
My gaze dropped. I gave one final look to Brent, his eyes shaped in anguish as I turned to harbour security.
“I’m sorry about my friend. He’s a manic-depressive. Just let him play for a couple more minutes, and I’ll get him out of here.”
The officer filled his body with a contemptuous breath. He feigned concern. “Oh, uh. I’m sorry about your friend, but…you realize this is a restricted area.”
“Yes I realize. He just wants to touch the steering wheel. He has an overactive imagination. I’ll get him out of here.”
Brent could hear the transaction, despite how hushed I tried to be. He lifted one leg slowly after the other over the small security fence and walked down the plank, me and harbour security staring in unison, mouths wired shut.
We picked up our bikes and rode home in silence. His disappointment never left our interactions. He spoke more and more about damned Whitey, which my newlywed, a white woman, didn’t much care for and she soon dismissed the man as a calloused reverse-racist.
The Whitey he spoke of was the one who came first. The one who came in a time when gods walked among men and chained our imaginations, allowing only approved visions to flash across our screens. I see Whitey in dreams, even now after my newlywed has gone, my education is worthless, and my home is broken. Even now after I’ve crossed the ocean, the proper way, with a passport, through security.
My imagination is an albatross still hanging in my closet. I know it’s still there because every friend I’ve told this story to tells me the same garbage Whitey painted in blood across our screens.
They don’t see the irony, that I’m not the hero of this story. They point out the reckless, impulsive foolishness of the dreadlocked bassplayer. What a crazy man. You did the right thing. I’m glad you didn’t go with him. You would have gotten in serious trouble. It’s fun to think about, but in reality you would be a thief. There’s no mercy for thieves.
There’s no mercy for vagrancy.
There’s no mercy for criminal acts.
There’s no mercy for gods walking among men.