Thursday, December 6, 2012

If I Had a Time Machine

I was four, maybe five. But I remember.

His name was Jeremy. A young explorer. An adverturer. He lived a few doors down from me in the town-house community—garden homes, they were called—on Bowhill Avenue, behind the K-Mart and Dominion plaza. Our homes were separated from the shopping centre, which also was host to a TD Bank, Living Lighting, Gow's Chinese Food, Gilio's Barbers, and Brewer's Retail, by a field that had a small wooded grove where the teens in the neighbourhood hung out: Hippie Hideout. A creek ran the length of the plaza, from Meadowlands to Viewmount, and beyond, past Merivale High School.

That was our territory. Jeremy and I would explore Hippie Hideout during the day, when the teens were at school. Broken bottles of 50, Blue, and Ex, obtained illegally from the beer store by someone who was willing to buy for underaged drinkers. Cigarette butts. pieces of burnt wood. A plastic milk case or two, obviously swiped from the back of the Dominion grocery store. My friend and I ran through the much-trodden paths, trying to secure a small spot of our own, leaving Hot Wheels cars with plastic army soldiers to keep guard.

In colder weather, when the shallow parts of the creek froze over, we would stomp on the ice, shattering it like glass. In deeper spots—deeper being up to the knees—we would find rocks and break the ice from the safe distance of the edge.

Jeremy was fearless and always wanted to explore further. We wandered the paths of our garden-home community, looking for other kids to play with. We explored the rocks and broken concrete of the rubble pile that would later become Chesterton Towers.

We walked down Bowhill, to Chesterton Drive, where we discovered the slide and swings of General Burns Park. It wasn't our first time there: our mothers had walked us there before, had taken us to the wading pool during the summer. But when we explored on our own, we ventured that far.

I don't know why I couldn't play with Jeremy that one day. I do remember seeing him, when he came to my door that morning, wanting to play, wanting to explore. I can't remember if I was sick, if I had chores, or a meal to eat, or an appointment to go to. I just remember seeing his smiling face, his mischievous grin, asking me to come out with him. And I couldn't go. I would see him later, I told him before closing the door.

I also don't remember if it was later that day or the next day that I went to call on Jeremy, to see if he still wanted to play. I don't remember if I had recovered from a day's rest or if I had finished my chores, my meal, or if I had returned from whatever appointment I had kept. But I do remember what happened when I knocked on Jeremy's door.

Jeremy's mom, who was always nice to me, was tearful when she opened the door. When she saw me and knew why I was there, she choked down sobs. "Jeremy can't come out. He's not here. There's been an accident." And then the door closed, I could hear loud sobs and voices of other people from the other side of the door.

Jeremy was not afraid to expore on his own. He had been chased away from Hippie Hideout, the teens screaming after him, telling him to keep out from their territory, that they'd kill him if they caught him again. Other times, he would come running home, shivering, having slipped into the ice-cold creek and getting soaked to the waist.

Jeremy, having failed to get me to come out with him, had gone exploring on his own. And he went far. He had gone to General Burns Park, had most likely played on the swings, on the slide, on the monkey bars. He couldn't have gone to the wading pool because on that day and at that hour, the wooden gate would have been closed and locked. The wooden fence would have blocked Jeremy's view.

But the fence to the larger, deeper pool, the pool for grownups, was a chain-link one. And Jeremy was a climber. And his curiousity had got the better of him that day. Because I was just a kid, I didn't get the details. I have no idea when someone would have found him at the bottom of the pool. I don't know if he was found at the bottom of the deep end or the shallow end, but that didn't matter. For Jeremy, all parts of that pool were the deep ends.

I don't know what made me think of Jeremy this week. I was out for a walk, listening to music, letting my mind wander, and it wandered to Jeremy. And the memories returned. On my stroll, I had wandered back in time.

I wish I had a time machine. I would go back to that day. I would show up at my house on Bowhill, before Jeremy knocked on my door, and I would walk him back to his house. I would tell his mother to keep him indoors for the day, to wait for the younger me to be able to join him.

But would that have prevented Jeremy from going off on his own? Or maybe he would have waited until I was able to join him, and there would have been two young bodies at the bottom of the General Burns pool. Because I followed Jeremy everywhere.

If I had a time machine, I would return to that date. I would keep at a distance while Jeremy knocked on my door. When he set off on his own, I would follow him, from a distance, so as to avoid his detection. I would let Jeremy play in the park until he was bored. I would let him climb that fence. I would even let him fall—or jump—in. But I would have climbed the fence and gone after him when he got too close to the pool. And I would race to the pool when he looked like he was about to go in.

And I would save him.

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