Raised in a little eastern fishing village Bill spent his younger years playing hide and seek with his younger brother. Everyone knew each other in this close-knit community of 150 people. It was an OK sort of family; at first Bill said, until the horrible day happened, then everything changed and no matter how hard he tried Bill could not make his life go back.
Bills dad was a hard working man of the sea just like his father and his fathers father He provided for his small family and though he liked to occasionally imbibe he never did on a Sunday when mom would dress up the boys and they would all go to mass at the catholic church, the only church in town.
Looking at the old cross on his bedroom wall Bill would often talk to Jesus about life and his dreams to be a fisherman just like his dad. He and his brother loved being at sea in his dads fishing boat, they would play with the nets and his dad would get so excited when he hauled in the days catch. Mom would slow cook that fresh fish over the wood stove and there would be a feast.
If only life could stand still. If only the page could be turned back.
It was spring, a bright sunny breezy day and Bill and his younger brother were jumping from one coastal rock to another. The waves were hitting the rocks causing a slight salty spray. Bill gave his brother a little push as he jumped. His brother slipped and fell cracking his head open on the rocks below.
As fast as his eight year old legs could carry him Bill raced back to his house crying out for help barely hearing the sound of his own voice for the pounding of his heart beat. Everything else was a blur.
When the village Dr. came he said the boy was dead. Mom was given an injection and fell asleep then dad came home from fishing. Bill had never seen dad cry before nor had he seen dad look at him like he knew Bill was capable of killing. Dad started drinking that night and never stopped til the day he too was laid out in the funeral parlour. No one ever mentioned that horrible day again.
Dad didn’t feel like fishing so much anymore and would take the money he made and spend his time drinking Jack Daniels. He would play cards with the boys and didn’t seem very interested in Bill or his mom. One day a big car came and mom came down from the bedroom with a small suitcase she hugged Bill and said behave for your dad and drove away. Mom never came back.
His became the party house; all night poker games, beer and whiskey flowed , loud country music and women lots of women. By 13 Bill was having sex and partying with women old enough to be his mother. The only time dad wanted to talk to him was when they were both drinking. Bill dropped out of school and dad was on a disability pension and they took in drunken roomers. He stopped talking to Jesus because he figured Jesus stopped talking to him since he killed his brother. He stopped thinking about life and started wishing he could die.
Life seemed easier to bear once Bill had a few shots of whiskey in him. There didn’t seem to be much reason to stay in the small town once dad died. With some money he found in his dads bedroom Bill decided to hitch hike to Calgary where he heard there were lots of jobs working in the oil business. Back home the fishing industry was crashing and he saw no future for himself there.
Bill was an angry man. WHY did God hate him so much? Why did he push his brother to his death? Why did that one moment have to ruin his whole life. Why did his presence make mom leave the home? Why did he cause dad to drink himself to death? God could have stopped him but He didn’t. All Bill had left were nightmares of WHY? WHY? WHY?
Having never been outside his small town before Bill found the big city a bit overwhelming. He had seen lots of pictures of Ottawa before but never would have believed he would actually be here.
At the shelter where he stayed he met many other maritimers heading west to seek their fortune. Unfortunately, many never left Ottawa. Drinking, depression and desperation, while stuck in poverty and a system designed in many ways to keep you poor, meant that for many, Ottawa was the beginning of a slipperry downward slope. Soon Bill found that Ottawa has few affordable available rooms to rent and there are few labouring jobs for skilled fishermen. For Bill soon the world of maddness and drink and illusions seemed preferrable to another deadend day.
I met Bill the summer of 94. Many hours were spent listening to his love for the sea and his rendition of Acadian songs. Many hours were spent listening, encouraging and loving Bill through his struggles. We talked about God’s plan, for hope and future, and we prayed for Jesus to guide Bill through his life decisions, and we prayed for the Holy Spirit to give Bill wisdom.
But anger and depression shattered Bills world. Always he blamed himself for all his empty dreams. He felt even God could not forgive him.
Last year Bill swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and was found dead under a bridge. There wasn’t anything we could do to stop him — this was his choice. We grieved deeply.
With no family to claim his body Bill was cremated and buried in “Potters Field”, an unmarked area of the cemetary where the ashes of the unclaimed are tilled into the soil.
Sometimes you see the pain is so great. The despair is so pervasive that even dreams of the sea are not enough.
So far from home…