When I was a child, I had a pirate ship for a Huffy. It’s name was The Dreamer of Dreams. 12 speeds which I would sail to and from my small town everyday. In fact during the summer in a generation of easier times, my mother would load my pirate ship into our 80’s big brown van and bring me into the city, where I would spend the day sailing the vast sea of strangers, adventures, and accidents waiting to happen. Every morning that summer I’d wake up early with my parents as if it were Christmas, excited to face the adventure that awaited. I remember these days as if they were yesterday. We’d have breakfast at the table. My mother always trying to fill me up with food before the voyage, before slipping me $10 for the day’s rations. My father talked of my previous days bounties and autographs I hunted while meeting professional footballers outside of Lambeau Field.
Those days I was completely alone and in love with every ounce of the world. I could feel every blade of grass behind the Brown County Arena, every gust of wind, and every moment held through the wide eyes of a child. Those places I reported back to my parents, and those discoveries I never dare, were mine to absorb as I could go anywhere on my pirate ship. As a pirate in between expeditions, I learned local crafts such as how to steal quarters from the bottom of arcade games and use them for free play, where a super Nintendo was located in the k-mart and how to get free refills on your big gulps. That summer became I learned the resourcefulness of a rogue, and daydreamed of my future travels on a real pirate ship.
Every day after my bag lunch, I always found myself deep in a small wooded area next to the highway. I climbed trees and made a home for myself, even storing candy bars and Diet Coke cans I nabbed from my parents before they could take note. I would sit in my house and listen to the traffic on the highway, dreaming of the adventures the commuters were partaking on. Where were they going in this big bright world? Their ships sailed so much faster than my Huffy. One day my friend Kirk joined me in my tree house. We tried chewing tobacco he stole from his dad, and we shared a Diet Coke I stole from my mom while desperately rinsing our mouths. That day I vividly remember telling him “If I could have a ship that fast, no one would ever catch me. I mean this world is so big. I’d spin the globe and sail forever. I’d never come back here.”
The words of a pirate fueled by emotion of hating the small town he sailed from everyday. The locals were hideous and new my family secrets, and would never let me forget them. In between the dry heaves of Kodiak chewing tobacco my best friend prodded me with jokes about where I would go. “I could go to the GREAT WALL!” I told him matter of factly without knowing truly where it was. A plan was immediately in place for my expedition. A map loosely based on a 12 year old’s thoughts on world geography was diagramed on Hardees napkins with various colors of Sharpies from the autographs. Gold was treasure. This was the instant I fell in love with the idea of feeling the world, all of vast expanses, all of its people, all of its places.
Though summer days faded with time and eventually the vast ocean dried up into a small pond called Oconto Falls, Wisconsin. Trapped in a world of savage peers the dreams of leaving could only burn intensely for so long before its fire was quelled by the ice bucket of normalcy and what is expected in a small town. Despite this, I fought to keep those memories of my summer sailing the seas aboard The Dreamer of Dreams. Though I remember every ounce of feeling those memories provided, from its smells of popcorn at movie theaters we snuck into, to the way my dad looked at me so confidently when I left every day, I could not remember where I left that map to buried treasure.
Recently one evening, I came across that same woodland area and decided walk through it just as I did as a child. Digging through the night as branches met my attempts with slaps in the face, I found my map through a series of small cuts and bruises. It appeared in a dark corner I had left abandoned for ages. The crumpled ball sat there abandoned and discarded. But I could not move it. My map to buried treasure lie underneath a pile of rubble of heartbreak, social media status updates, student loans, Donald Trump posts, reality television, sales quotas, the fear of being alone, and the heaviest of stones which pinned the map to its deepest – my fear of failure. I tried to lift this rock and couldn’t. Without knowing, I reinforced it through 25 years of wanting only what everyone else did. I should be married, I should have a kid by now, I should be working in my field, I should have a lawn and neighbors, I should quit smoking. None of these things ever happened for me. Instead, I chased these things and tried to force them into my life… and they would never fit.
I turned tears into sobs while striking this rubble as hard I could, nearly breaking my heart in the process. Kicking and swinging savagely while demanding it back. With every tear sobbed and a throat burning from yells, I collapsed next to the rubble. Exhausted on exhale, I uttered the only words I could between one final sob and a light of smoke. “I just want my map back.”
Through all of this commotion in the middle of Mears Park, I did not hear the familiar sounds of a fellow traveler passing through in the night. I raised my head to see the beautiful Bette Davis eyes of Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen herself, as our ships crossed paths. She stopped for a moment in empathy “I know this hurts you,” she said while looking at the rubble, “but your map is no good any more. You simply need to make a new one.” After offering me a small loot bag, she kissed me on the cheek and sailed away as quickly as she came, hopefully not forever. After watching her spirit leave I inspected the bag she left to find only a compass, Hardees napkin and a series of Sharpie markers. I closed my eyes and began drawing. Gold is for treasure.
When I awoke I remembered that buried inside of us, there is a treasure map of some sort. Do not let the rubble and the constant buzz of this world get so weighted it will keep you from it. There was a youthful exuberance we all had as children which made the world feel like magic, and that is truly the only treasure I need. In one form or another, we all do. Thus I have decided to redraw my map to find it. As when I do I will never let it go.
At 35, The Dreamer of Dreams has evolved from a Huffy to a series of terminals and turnstiles. As I prepare to sail the oceans for what could be my final voyage alone – I can’t help but feel my eyes open widely, and my heart begin to race just as it did that summer in Wisconsin. To Ms. O’Malley, I will bring you with me to every port as I rediscover the treasure I lost as a child. When this voyage is done, I will bring it home to you.