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I hated moving here.
Not an hour after I received the shock from my parents, I was compelled to give it to Gene.
I thought, since he was my best friend, it would be most appropriate we should part ways in the most dramatic fashion I could concoct.
I imagined we would be like two legends, eagle feathers in our hair, spears in hand, bowing and, under the witnessing gaze of the setting sun, tearfully parting ways to make their own tribes in lands distant from them.
And so, under the ruse of having discovered a new game, I convinced him to play catch for the second time that day. His spare-the-rod, spoil-the-child mother proved to be a challenge but, in a show of firm diplomacy unlike anything Gene had ever expected from me, I was able to charm her as well. I thought myself very clever for pulling this off. So did Gene.
We began to play and without hesitation I unfurled the words into the wind: “I’m moving to Canada.”
The ball hit him in the chest and, though my throw was light, he struggled for a moment to keep his balance. Gene was an unsentimental rough-and-tumble sort who never showed emotion. He’d protected me on several occasions when I was unable to defend myself. And, he’d seen me cry.
But here, he and I both found ourselves unable to express.
So he threw the ball right back. This time it stung when it hit my hand. And I returned the throw.
We kept at it for a while. Not a sound, apart from the metronomic rapping of the ball.
It was awkward at first, but as the Zen-like state took over, for the first time in my life, the dream of growing up faster left me and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude that time stood still for a moment. I thought, if we could only keep the ball moving between us, you know, like we’re setting a world record. Back and forth, back and forth, just like this. We’d just say “we are working on a world record.” And every adult knows that nothing is more important than setting a world record. Then I wouldn’t have to leave.
“So, when are you leaving?” Gene broke the silence, in a voice too low for his age.
And that was the end of it.
That night I lay awake in bed, thinking about the reason I wanted to immortalize our moment of parting. Why did I do this? What did I expect?
I thought then whether or not Gene is crying about his best friend leaving him, possibly forever. I thought maybe eight year old men don’t cry about things like this. I mean, to cry you’d have to get really hurt, from a bad cut or a ball to the face or something. Then I thought, maybe he’s not crying for the same reason I can’t cry.
And the rest felt like a dream. I took a picture of the scene in my mind, the way I thought I would be remembered: a gentle, weak, impressionable boy going someplace far, far away with his parents, and all with little English and little money, away from loved ones who’d give anything for them to stay. What a sad picture.
But nothing came until we reached the airport. Then it was like reality could no longer hold its breath, and the tears came.
Of my own volition, I walked toward the terminal, I held my ticket, I helped my dad push the luggage on the trolley, but I cried about it anyway. At that point it wouldn’t have taken much. You could point at a random tree and I’d probably cry about it – how beautiful it is and how I’d never see it again.
That was twenty years ago.
I loved moving here.
Not long ago I walked the West Coast Trail of Vancouver Island, with aching body, blistered feet, roughing, enduring, falling and laughing like a child. And days in, passing a surge channel, I looked in the water and experienced my reflection: a bearded man with a stick and a pack, with ash in my hair and mud on my face. I also saw my childhood, and I saw Gene looking right back at me.
I laughed, “old boy, yeah, that’s the way.” And there, in my own metaphysical way, I was almost reliving Sir Charles G.D. Roberts’ “Tantramar Revisited”.
Vancouver is a subject close to my heart and about which I could talk at length, but there is something more. Something very important. I feel it has to do with Vancouver’s kaleidoscope of characters, doors and hidden treasure troves which, you can discover as I have discovered, carry pieces you thought you had left behind. My eight year old self would not have understood it then. In Vancouver he found himself again. And when he thought he had, he found himself some more.