A collective gasp seems to permeate the room along with the smell of red meat. It is only as I add my hamburger hash to the table that I realize I have been invited to a vegetarian pot luck.
I walk 12 kilometers to Jesse’s house in the dead of winter. The last communication I have with her is written with my frozen fingers in the snow on her front yard.
They spend the night in their orange VW minivan parked in my driveway. The only time they come in is to shower in the morning.
He is like a carefully calibrated time bomb, set to detonate at the moment of greatest potential destruction. I fall upon him, shielding her from as much damage as possible.
They are two androgynous waifs aged twelve and ten. The older boy is the figure of responsibility in the household. He cooks the meals. He cleans the house. He ensures his younger brother gets to school on time. Their mother is named Gypsy. Her income is from home-based massage and aromatherapy services. The boys bring their pet ferret to Brewer Park.
I smell chlorine and potato chips as I lead him down the hall to become a tadpole once more.
Ben, his bare feet on a footstool in front of him, is absorbed in a book. He feels one of the cats lick his toes. He bends forward to absent-mindedly stroke the cat and sees that it is in fact a raccoon who has wandered in the open patio door.
I stand at a safe distance and watch as they take aim and fire at each other. They seem so young. The footing is wet and precarious from so much shooting.
He has acquired potassium nitrate, sulphur and charcoal to create homemade fireworks on the kitchen stove. He suffers second-degree burns over his face when the compound inadvertently explodes. He claims to be fine as he sits in Emergency shaking uncontrollably from pain and shock.
I arrive expecting to see my favourite tree, an ancient elm whose physical breadth is matched by its depth of character. I learn that the tree had been removed six years ago as it was hollow and a risk to visitors.
We are on the Rideau River Nature Trail, bicycling home. I follow behind but am distracted for the briefest moment. He is not there. He is crashing through the bush toward the river.
Shawn O’Sullivan, suffering brain damage from repeated blows to his head, is reported missing. He is described as vulnerable and confused. Thieves had broken into his apartment and stolen boxing memorabilia.
I wake groggily in the middle of the night, vaguely aware of an alien noise filling my bachelor apartment. As I become fully awake I realize a bat is zig-zagging through my airspace. Startled and disoriented I dash out of the apartment. Only when I am standing, undressed in the hallway, does it occur to me that I have locked myself out.
We meet at the Prescott to drink draft beer and watch Shawn O’Sullivan’s fight. After a few glasses of beer his name becomes Sawn O’Shovellin.
Amongst the comic books and tea cups I find a single boxing glove signed by Shawn O’Sullivan.
Our light-hearted exploration is halted by a resonant boom. We are frozen on the ice of Dow’s Lake, staring at each other, waiting for someone to explain.
“I’m not happy about the fact that you assume you will spend every weekend at my place.”
“But that’s okay. Any time you want a weekend alone you can just tell me.”
“I sort of want it the other way around.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if I want you here I’ll invite you.”
This is how our relationship ends with both a bang and a whimper.
“Now, can you do the hammer?”
“Can anyone do the hammer?”
“Paul could. He never did it because it scared us. But he could do it.”
I come here to St Paul University when I’m not on site at the UN. For a while I would work at home at a desk I set up in the basement. But I’ve never liked living and working in the same space. It’s like sleeping in the clothes you had on all day. Plus, Ben would get back from school around 3:30, often bringing friends home. So this is where I return each day to do my work.
I scan the book spines that surround me.
Corpus Consuetudinum Monasticarum.
Christianity and Islam in Spain.
The Counter-Reformation in the Villages.
Les Liturgies Populaires.
Beginning Biblical Hebrew.
I go to the public internet computer to check my email. There is a message from Catherine. “A plane has just flown into the World Trade Centre.” I rush home to give Catherine a teary embrace just before we see, on television, the second plane make impact.
He drops off their child at day care. As he leaves the building he sees a plane fly into one of the towers overhead. He immediately returns to the day care centre. As he is leaving with the child in his arms the second plane collides with the second tower. She looks down. She looks down from uptown. She looks down trying to see them through the destruction and chaos.
I guess this is a year of rebirth of sorts. I have moved away from friends and family. I am struggling to recover from the end of my first significant relationship. I have my first real job. I feel alive with loss and potential. I am electrified by questions of who I want to be. Every new person I meet contributes to my evolving self-portrait.
It is natural to have trepidation on a first encounter. One’s expectations are probably a good barometer of where you fall on the optimist/pessimist spectrum. For my part, I expect nothing good to come from this. Almost immediately I see how wrong I am.
I volunteer to work on Ottawa’s new non-profit arts tabloid. I write and do graphics but, most importantly, I meet Roy Stanley. Only, Roy Stanley doesn’t exist. He is a warm and passionate man who draws commitment from those around him. He gives me a copy of a wonderful story he wrote about mowing the lawn. I meet his wife and she in turn becomes a cherished friend. Only, Roy Stanley doesn’t exist.