The Stranger's journey has now come full circle.
Join me in the bright sunshine at When Words Go Free...

There are still stories to be told.
Read them at The Stranger Looks Back.


There is a strange town, just over yonder. The boy looked back at it, wondering if this time he was really leaving. He thought back to all the times he said he was, and he knew he wasn't. It was so much a part of him now that even if he did leave, it would always be with him. But he also knew that his lodging there had come to an end - his time there would now be as a visitor, not a sojourner.

He had arrived there broken and tattered two lifetimes ago, seeking shelter and escape from the storm that had been his sorry existence. He thought of all the wonderful people he had encountered there, all the glorious adventures they had shared, all the stories not yet written. And he thought of the girl whose eyes had kept him there in the first place, when he had meant to be on his way to somewhere else. Eyes he had never even seen, but that had called to him just as powerfully as if he had; this was something he never quite understood.

Although the girl had been out of his reach even before he arrived, she had shown him that there were still things worth reaching for. In that, she had saved his life without knowing it, or perhaps she did; either way, he could never put into words what she had done for him, nor properly express the gratitude he would always feel. He gave up trying to explain it to others long ago; his friends just figured he wasn't the type to hold a grudge.

And then there was the lad, who he had first thought of as an arrogant little twerp. Or maybe that was him, he didn't remember anymore. Despite what he had said, what he really didn't like about the lad was his ability to tell him about himself - to see through the mask that had hidden him from the others. It was only when he saw what the lad had seen that he grew to appreciate the favour.

He thought of some of the folks who had made his stay enjoyable. The clown whose dry wit had caused him extra laundry more than once, the awesome chick who reminded him of his own sister, the manly dude who he still intended to meet at the burger place, the faithful skipper who had stood by his side through the fiercest storms, the one there from the start whose dedication to his children had inspired him to be a better father to his own, the young romantic who he hoped had come to see the love in the eyes of her Romeo, the girl and her dog with whom he shared many a breakfast, the math nerd whose images captivated him and who was surely one of the two smartest people there, the science nerd who was nothing like the science nerds he knew at that age and who was surely the other one of the two, the widow whose poetry had so moved him for a moment until the phone rang, the young mother whose fortitude had inspired him to face his own challenges, the schoolboy who was mature beyond his years and quick as a whip with the binoculars, the schoolgirl who took such beautiful pictures, the prophet who was always sure to hide a pearl in every bucket of rocks, the classy schoolteacher with whom he had gone as far as propriety would allow, the bar wench who had seemed much younger than her age, the future historian who had been the first to honour his presence there, the novelist who had become a welcome regular at his favourite watering hole, the preacher whose droning served as the backdrop for many a night by the campfire, the crazy cat lady whose tales of sales had made him laugh so hard, the boy who was really a girl who he hoped was okay, the little lady who mistook him for a wise man (which he quite enjoyed), the young couple who reminded him of another young couple so long ago, the asshole who had taught him that questions are not answered simply by asking them, the lady whose colourful balloons brought many smiles and the occasional sly grin to his face, the dragon master who helped him out of many a tight spot, the college professor who was nothing like his college professors, the friendly young man with the quaint idea that Canadian football was a real sport, the consort of a Nigerian prince who had so cleverly fooled him, the wise man with whose voice of reason he tended to agree, the golfer who had arranged for his Hebrew lessons, the kindred soul who had given him the guidebook for the next part of his journey and to whom he now entrusted his flock, and his dear friend to whom he had first shown himself without the mask and title and who had awakened something within him that he forgot existed - something he needed for the next part of his journey.

As he started out on the path before him, he looked back one more time, and thought again of the eyes that had drawn him there, the ones he had never seen - the weird mention of which had opened his own eyes to the real ones beckoning him now, as if they had been meant as a sign waiting to show him the way. And at last, he understood.

Maktub, the boy thought, as he continued on his journey. His sycamore tree was waiting.

I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you. 

Happily Ever After

After she moved in, we fell in love, and were going to live happily ever after. Like everything we did, starting with that first night in the van, we did it hard and fast. When it was over, I sometimes wondered if it was just me, but when I heard, years later, that we had been engaged, I figured it must have been her too. Honesty, however, was not our strong point.

Throughout the three years of our on-again-off-again-mostly-in-and-out romance, we both fucked around. A lot. I suppose it is poetic justice that I didn't know how much she did until much later. She never knew I did, except for the one time I told her about. Her freakout over that ended with a visit to a hospital, where they gave her "vitamins" that was really Valium. She didn't react well to Valium, and I never fessed up again.

Then there was the abortion I paid for, not knowing, also until much later, that it had been paid for three times over; at least I was the one who took her. And my VCR and ghetto blaster that I had to buy back from her dealer. I never did get my great-grandfather's watch back - I hope whoever took it for a kite of snow came down with a bad case of dysentery.

The winner was when she went to a private rehab in another city, at great expense to me. When I made the long drive to visit a few weeks later, I found her waiting in front of the main entrance with her suitcase. She had been kicked out for going to a motel with one of the male inmates during an unsupervised sortie.

Ever the dreamer, I went to plead her case with the powers that be, to no avail, only to find that she was no longer waiting in the car when I came out. After two days of searching, I headed home. That night, the phone rang around midnight - I had to go rescue her right away. I borrowed a fuzzbuster and made the 500-km drive in three hours flat.

After a weekend of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll in the country, I got her into another rehab, this one a freebie. A week there and she disappeared with motel guy, who, coincidentally, was also there.  They made their way back and spent two weeks living in a tent on my future wife's rooftop, another fact I learned much later.

Long story short, it didn't work out. There was something about us that should have worked, a connection that went beyond all the bullshit we went through. There were moments when love could not possibly have been more pure, but history and psychology and addiction prevented those from being anything but few and far between in this lifetime.

Even after she moved out for the last time, and was living with her new boyfriend, I still hoped that God would answer my prayers and make everything the way it was supposed to be. The way it should have been. But when prayers are answered, it is often not in the way we expect.

The day I finally knew it was over was the day I hit it off with the future mother of my beautiful daughters. A mutual friend was getting married, and she asked me if I could give "D" (one of her friends, whose words earlier in 1991 I still recalled) a lift. Geography led me to pick D up first; I helped her get dressed, and played KerPlunk with her daughter while she applied the finishing touches to make herself even prettier than she already was.

I was seated with her, D, and a few of their friends. She got royally plastered and started hitting on the old men. At least one got an impromptu lap dance. At one point the mother of the groom, whom I had never met, came up to me and asked, in her heavy east European accent, "You are --?" I said I was. "Carol is yours?"

"Not any more," I answered.

* * * * *

The last time I saw her was on my 30th birthday, in passing. I later heard that she moved out to the west coast, where she was never heard from again. D thinks that she ended up on Pickton's farm. She's not on any of the lists, but nobody will ever know how many aren't. I prefer to think that she finally cast out her demons and is living happily ever after somewhere.

Song of The Blue Tree

He thought back to that first blue tree. The one that had sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere - he is still not quite sure who planted it. It was just there, and he was happy to make himself comfortable beneath it. He had liked that tree, had quite enjoyed sitting beneath its branches on a quiet spring afternoon, the shade it provided still allowing the warmth of the sun to envelop him.

He remembered the day he cut it down. It had pained him to do so, but he knew he had no choice. The fruit had gone sour, perhaps because he had watered it too much. He placed a flower where it had stood, to remind him of that spring afternoon. As if he could forget.

After that, it was a long time before he sat under another blue tree. He was careful not to plant any unintentionally, but one would pop up from time to time. These were more like bushes - there was hardly any room to sit under them, and they would never last very long. He never seemed to miss these very much when they were gone.

In the autumn, as the leaves fell and the sky grew cold, he planted a new tree. For a little while, he spent much time under it, sometimes with a bottle of red, often sitting there into the wee hours of the night. At times it was bright and full of foliage, bringing much joy and laughter, and at others it drooped sadly, seeming to need his tender skills as a gardener.

He began to think that this tree might someday bear sweet fruit, that he might someday climb its trunk and perch in its branches. But it was not to be. One day in early winter, a cold wind blew over from the remnants of that very first blue tree, and seemed to leave a stain on its branches. Leaves grew over the stain to hide it, but he knew it was there. The few times he sat under the tree after that, it was never quite the same as it had been. The tree still stands, but he no longer wonders when he will sit under it again.

There were other blue trees that appeared in the grove that winter. One gave him some moments of mirth and merriment, which he enjoyed while knowing that it was simply a nice spot to pass the time. Another was one he had visited briefly in his earlier days, and his visits now were just as brief, although quite pleasant.

One blue tree in particular gave him a place to ponder and reflect, and he gained much insight while sitting under it. He felt a special connection to this tree; not a chemistry like that he had felt with the autumn tree, but more of an alchemistry, something that grew from the depths of understanding. He had a sense that this tree might remain a welcome part of the grove for a long time to come.

One day, he happened across an Old Friend, and they got to talking about trees and other things. The friend claimed to have some magical seeds, of which he was quite skeptical. The two agreed to test the seeds, just to see what might come of it. They scattered the seeds in a different grove than the one he was familiar with, and they watched to see if something might grow whose fruit they could share.

It did not, and he somehow knew that they were not to sit under a blue tree together. Some bushes had sprung up among many weeds, and just as he was on his way to clearing the grove of these, something caught his eyes. It was a sapling, a tiny blue tree barely poking out of the snow, but something strangely familiar about it told him he ought to water it.

There must have been magic in that water, because that little sapling started to grow, faster and stronger than anything he had seen before. There were times he would stand back in awe of its growth. He spent every possible moment under it, basking in its radiance; the more he basked, the brighter the tree radiated.

When he was away from the tree, he found himself tending to his affairs more diligently than he had been doing, as though he wanted no pressing concerns to interfere with his time under the tree. Music was played in the tree, and soon after, there were voices - something that had never before come forth from a tree for him. It was the second time he heard those voices that somehow, he knew.

It was time. Time for him to reach for the fruit of a blue tree while standing on solid ground. Time to come out of the blue, and into the here and now. His world was about to change forever, he hoped with all his heart.

His heart, it seemed, was not to be disappointed.