Every once in a while I force myself to think of where I would be in life if I continued down the straight and narrow. Imagining how one serious and careful step would have led to another until the safest path was all I could take. If I had ventured down that road I wouldn’t know anything of my possible safe life, but knowing what I do know now I wouldn’t have known what happiness really is either.
Happiness is centered in the smile of the person you love the most. If you can make that person smile then everything is right with the world. If your love is happy then you’re doing something right, and if you’re doing something right you never have to stop.
My happiness was in a girl I knew since grade school. We lived on the same street on the south end of Halifax and spent nearly every day together. When we were little we played in the streets and on bikes. We went to the fireworks together with our families and attended each other’s birthday parties.
As we grew up our relationship changed and when we became teenagers everyone assumed we were dating. We weren’t overly affectionate but our friends just said we were shy and hid it for when they weren’t around. They were mostly right.
Our parents were very relaxed with our care, expecting a lot from us as responsible teenagers and honor roll students. As teenagers often do we abused that trust and sneaked out often in the middle of the night to head to one of her favorite places, Point Pleasant Park. It wasn’t very far so we’d always go on foot and initially pretend we had escaped from prison and every set of headlights were the police out looking for us.
Shrubs were dove behind and cars were used as cover whenever we’d spot someone. We whispered in voices too loud to, “get down!”
Eventually we’d make it to the edge of the park and scurry across the street and into the trees. Our lungs huffing and puffing, we’d hug like we just had broken through to freedom. But that was only the beginning of our adventure. Once in the park we had to make our way through it. After the first few times we’d got our bearings and figure out the best way to get where we were going. It then became almost ritualistic, every weekend usually the same thing.
We would slip through the darkness and the trees to Black Rock Beach in the middle of the night. She loved the water. It didn’t matter what body or limbs it consisted of, as long as the wetness licked at her skin then she was happy. Because of this she always wanted to make out on the rocks when the surf was rough. It was the most romantic experience, she told me once.
“Can you imagine?” She said as we slipped through the trees off the path, “our bodies pressed tightly together as the tide rises up over our feet, soaking our clothes as we do the same to each others lips?”
She always had a poetic way about her. I never thought there would be too much trouble taking the path at night but she always said we needed to go through the trees. At moments of weakness she told me it was just more romantic. At moments of fantasy she said the ghosts of the dead from the old military prisons walked the paths at night, but they stayed clear of the brush.
The moon was high and exposed. It shone bright and only the birch, pine and maple trees hid us from its steady gaze, as we rustled through branches more than the nocturnal life. We were disturbing their nightly foraging, selfish as humans usually are. At the edge tree line we looked both ways.
“Nobody’s coming,” I whispered.
“No ghosts either,” she winked back.
We tore across the path and down to the beach, quickly finding our way to the large flat rock that peeked out and hugged a small body of water in towards the rocks and sand. She smiled up at me as the moon smiled down at her. She had a lunar glow about her almost her entire life. During the day she was reserved and held a sleepy demeanor, but at night she came to life. The moon knew this and greeted her with happy waves and a bright glow whenever it could.
The water rose and fell along our surface. I sat towards the peak and she dangled her feet at the wet stained rock towards the bottom.
“Afraid to get wet?” She teased.
“No, just not a fan of walking back in wet socks and shoes avoiding ghosts and branches.”
“You’re never any fun,” her face screwed up and she turned to lay on her back and gazed upward into the sky.
“This is so romantic. I know I say that a lot but I could camp out on this beach and live here year round if I were allowed.”
“You do know what they used this rock for back when Point Pleasant was a military base, right?” I always felt the need to ruin everyone’s fun with facts nobody asked for, I’m not sure why.
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
I nodded even though she wasn’t looking at me, “of course. They would execute criminals such as pirates and prisoners of war nearby on the Northwest Arm. It was called Dead Man’s Island. After executing them they would gibbet them, or hang them up for display. Usually as a deterrent or message to others to stop being baddies or else. So, that romantic rock that you’re laying on was probably the resting place of hundreds of dead bodies as they rotted in the sun and surf while being picked at by seagulls and crustacean.”
“See, never any fun. No wonder you’re so popular.”
“Facts and truth aren’t often popular but they are important.”
“So is an imagination.”
We both sat in silence for a few minutes. The sound of the waves lapping at the rocks and shore filled the night. In the distance we could hear the cranes and forklifts working at the dockyard, unloading humongous container ships. But there were no voices or bustling of human activity. Just the two of us and whatever creatures were lurking.
“You know it could be romantic,” she broke the silence first. It was often that way. I’d create it by saying something awkward and she would break it saying something fantastic.
“Being gibbeted, as you put it.”
“How could you turn something romantic out of having your corpse left to rot on the shores of a beach?” My tone was incredulous. I almost forgot who I was talking to for a moment but held back saying anything further. She can get quite sensitive from time to time and I hated making her upset.
“Easy. Of course there were probably a lot of men, and probably a few women, who were left righteously so to have their mutilated corpses whither away to nothing here on this rock,” she slapped at the smooth surface next to her. The water was rising and her feet were now in it up to her ankles. The dampness up past her hips whenever the tide reached out to see how high it could get.
“However I’m sure there were some that saw the gallows for unjust reasons. I would be right in thinking there were a few falsely accused crimes in their time, some more heinous than others. Maybe a noble pirate fighting against the tyranny of the most powerful kingdom on earth at that point in history?”
I watched from the top of the rocks as she laid against it and continued looking into the night’s sky. She was lost in the stars and the moon and the silence of space. She was talking to me but I don’t think I really needed to be there. Her hand was swirling in the rising water, making figure eight motions as she spoke.
“Or something as simple as a man stealing bread for his family. A boy falling in love with a girl he shouldn’t. A tragedy of star-crossed lovers. All you need to do is believe there is more to every story than the surface and the facts. Live a little.”
I was living. She brought out that side of me. If it weren’t for her I’d be at home right now in bed sleeping, just as every other normal person in Halifax was doing. But she wasn’t normal, she was special. She didn’t live by the rules of society that required us to grow up and get a job and be an adult. Those rules were cast off by her, and if she ever found a bit of pixie dust she’d be headed towards the second star on the right and straight on ’til morning.
Opposite to her I was fine following the path. I didn’t seek buried treasure or dream of romantic dalliances. Of course I wanted to travel and see things but I always figured I would end up right back here living a perfectly normal Haligonian life. There were no stars or other worlds for me, so when she invited me into her reality it felt surreal. It made me feel like a special guest accompanying Dorothy to Oz. I tried my best to be respectful.
Sometimes I thought she wasn’t real. The water had now risen up past her waist and she didn’t move a muscle. If I wasn’t there maybe she would let it carry her off into the Atlantic and float away into oblivion.
“Em! You’re getting soaked. Get up here.”
She laughed, “you worry too much. You should get a little wet sometimes.”
The word SLIPPERY was completely submerged. A few years later when we both were in University and a little more daring with our language and sexuality she would make lewd comments and laugh. She would ask me to take a picture with her laying alongside the word, hands between her legs as she made duck-face lips. All so she could post it on her Instagram with the only comment being three squirting water emoji’s and the crying laugh emoji.
But we were innocent at this point, both of us. We’d survived so many things together through the years and she kept me from drifting into the void while I grounded her enough so she didn’t get lost in the stars. We yin’d each other’s yang. She was the wild heart and I was the stable oak.
We always came back to Point Pleasant Park though, even during hours when it was open and the sun was shining. We’d have a picnic at the gazebo or just walk the trails. We’d visit the Prince of Wales tower, even more so now since the hurricane battered its beautiful tree canopy in 2003. She felt it needed more love then before as it wasn’t as picturesque to tourists since the destruction. And of course every time we’d stop at Black Rock Beach and sit on the slippery rock facing. She would dip her toes in the water and make the most pleasant sounds she could muster.
It’s funny how it turned out. Her care-free adventurousness pulled me away from the monotonous life I was headed towards. We traveled together all over the world an she introduced me to the most exhilarating experiences, even if they were terrifying at the time. All the while I kept us in a home to come back to. I gave her a base to spring from so she could do somersaults through her dreams and not lose that special piece of her to the real world. I protected her from life while she showed me what living meant.
I’ll always remember those nights when we were young, pushing through the brush and having branches smack me in the face. Telling her to watch out for unstable rocks or jagged-edged trees. Being kids out after midnight laying on the rock and looking up at the stars. Listening to her imagination run wild with possibility. Falling in love with her for the first time and never thinking of a possibility of life without her.