On Death

This past weekend there was a conversation that went something like this… ‘babble abbl gab’ and i replied ‘ugey booi wangi.’

Perhaps Seafire will be able to decode a normal marine VHF conversation but on that day their radio (no, not Seafire) wasn’t up to par, and or the person using the radio was a little stressed. So rather than struggle with a conversation that wasn’t making any sense on VHF I broke down and used my phone.

‘Hi, you wanted to talk to me?’

‘Yes, uh, the police are here and want to talk to you about a deceased body that’s been found.’

This was a bit of a shock; I’m sitting in my boat, in the middle of English Bay, and somebody wants to talk to me about a dead person.

‘OK, I’ll be there as fast as I can.’ So I rowed.

But all the time I’m rowing I am thinking about the homeless guy. Not just any homeless guy, god knows Vancouver is full of homeless people, this is a homeless guy that I know.

I know his fucking name.

And I’m afraid he is dead. Not passed, what a preposterous bit of shit that is, passed. Don’t let him be dead.

Eventually I get where I’m going, haul the boat ashore and go looking for the interlocutor – they who want to speak to me. After telling at least two of the 20-odd cops on scene that ‘you want to talk to me, you called me, now I want in’ I got where I needed to be. Talked to who I needed to talk to.

‘Would you write a statement, please?’ she asked. You bet. So I sat down with a stranger’s keyboard and typed out a statement, printed it off, and handed it off.

Then there are four or five people including myself stuck behind ‘police line do not cross’ tape, just like the movies. And all the while I’m hoping it isn’t my homeless guy.

Why should I care. Worse, why would I prefer it was some other person dead on the ground so that my homeless guy might live, still?

Though the next 3 or 4 hours there is one hint that it isn’t him, my homeless guy might be alive. But only a hint.

But early the next day my fears are washed away. Yes, there was a dead person. And, yes, I could put most of that person’s name down. But my homeless guy lives still.

Guilt has perched on my shoulder and take an occasional bite out of my ear. There is a sense that in some metaphorical universe I have traded the life of my homeless guy for someone’s mother/wife/sister/aunt and a tiny little place inside me asks if I really have the right to make that trade.

It is not as if I have not dealt with Death before this weekend; we’ve been involved since my father’s death, me @ 16, him at 42 and small change. A week later a young man dies at Westwood racing circuit (at the corner I’m flagging) and I meet Death again. And my mother, just this year, in her 80s. Her brother – who’s life I officially ended when I ordered life support be withdrawn – is a death that some would rest solely on my shoulders, but I’ll go before any god and justify my decision.

Friends. My first best friend (you know, the kid you hung out with and every thing you did, your parents blamed on your best friend, and their parents reciprocated) long before turning 20. Ex-girlfriends. Dead. Ex-business (bad business, but, nonetheless) partners, dead.

And the little 6 year old girl. Killed by her drunken father on Marshall Rd, Abbotsford. That’s a long time ago and I’ve not forgot. Unlike his God I’ll not forgive.

Add a couple of people unknown, unnamed, one who died in front of me. One I found in a stairwell.

I never felt a pang of guilt about any of them. Not to say I didn’t shed a tear, at least for two of many, but my homeless guy lives.

This isn’t a cry for help, it is by far one of the worst pieces I’ve written, and I’m not happy with it. But someone who’s name I know, someone I’ve had a conversation with, someone who has taken my boat out for a row is someone who’s life is a little bit closer to mine that that of someone’s aunt/daughter/sister/wife/mother who I’ve never known.

That little bit inside that values mine over yours, my guy with a name.

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