When I was a kid, I used to look out across Lake Superior and
think I was looking off the end of the world. It was like the
big oar boats were out there gliding along the rim, balanced
precariously between life and death, nothing and everything;
travelers on the edge of Oblivion.
The spirit of the lake gets into you. She can be calm and
caring, or beautiful and terrifying. She is haunted. Always
has been. So many lost souls rested on the bottom of the lake
twisted up in the bones of the dead ships like the Edmund
Fitzgerald. So many others pulled under for drunken stupidity
and bad luck. The undertow scared me horribly; it was like I
might be swept into it with any wrong move, all it took was just
a false step. I convinced myself that's why I never learned to
swim. Secretly, I thought the undertow was just the excuse they
gave when the lonely ghosts of the lake pulled someone else down
to join them.
I used to have a recurring dream when I was a child. In the
dream, I was a younger Ojibwe sitting in a canoe with one of my
elders. I never knew how it happened, but I always ended up in
the water and then I was falling endlessly through it. Before I
could panic, though, the point of view would change to third
person and I would just watch my body fall, silhouetted, through
endless waters. Over a decade later, I witnessed the image of
the "falling man" from the World Trade Center. They looked
When I close my eyes, the lake still rages in my mind even
from 400 miles away. It gets into you and just never lets go,
holding like a vice to the subconscious dreams and aspirations
of the affected. It's the only place I feel entirely at home;
the only place I can breathe easy and feel no stones in my
stomach. Maybe because I know it so well. At least I know if I
give it the chance, it will kill me and I know that, if I let
it, it will haunt me right down to my deepest thought.
But this is a city story, though the haunting remains. Not
of the ghost kind, but of the kind that lives behind your eyes.
The city is much more frightening. It replaces the rush and
roar with the cacophony of car alarms, the shriek of sirens, and
the ghosts of gunshots that have torn across the sky. Where the
lake promises to kill you if you don't respect it, the city
plays coy. It promises to provide you with protection against
your fellow citizens. It claims you are safe behind your
deadbolt door, then breaks the glass from your car window. It
violates you slowly and leers all the time like the perverted
uncle in Tommy. The city will kill you eventually, but it will
be a slow death. Slow and hard so you feel every cell die and
every breath become more shallow, more labored.
In the film Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer plays a Replicant
nearing the end of his short life. When he is dying, he gives
Harrison Ford's character this beautiful speech as the rain
pours on this futuristic city.
"All those moments will be lost in time..." He says. "Like
tears in the rain."
And so are we lost in the city. We, who quietly drown and
then are forgotten.
I know very little about what happens in the city even as I
live in it, but I know a story or two. The story I want to tell
is one of them and I only hope I get all the details right. I
sincerely do. After all, stories are made to prevent us from
getting lost in the city; to keep our voices above the swell of
the urban waves that seek only to drown us.
Daniel GonyeaAlexander, December 2012