Letting the days go by

10 09 2011

I wasn’t there.

But I still have a story, so here it is:

I was in Montreal, and many mornings I rode my bike up Mont Royal before showering at the nearby medical building and heading to my office on Peel Street. The Biomedical Ethics Unit was still in the old red mansion on the west side of the street, and my office was on the ground floor, separated from the main office on the third floor. I had just walked in, maybe turned the computer on, when the phone rang.

I heard my mom, not recognizing me, asking to speak to me. She and my dad were scheduled to leave for their first-ever trip to Europe (I had long pestered them to go), so I wondered if something had happened with their plans.

The trip was cancelled, she said. All the trips are cancelled. What? I said, why? Are you rescheduling?

I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but something about planes, multiple planes crashing in New York, in DC, no one knows what’s going on, we might be at war, haven’t you heard?

Haven’t you heard?

I do remember standing in my office, one hand on my forehead, not comprehending what was being told to me. Not comprehending at all.

Then D., my fellow post-doc, filled my door-frame. Did you hear, he might have said. Something about planes, multiple planes, crashing in the US, A. has the t.v. on up in the office.

At some point I got off the phone and headed up. There it was. I don’t know how long I stayed, watching, before heading over to the Shatner (the student union) for coffee. The t.v. was on there. Students were crying. People were crying. I don’t know if they were Canadian or American. I don’t remember if I cried.

At some point I heard the borders were closed. Closed! I was locked out! I knew, not forever, but I started to know I was on the outside.

Later I was at lunch with the director of my unit (a dual citizen), a colleague, and that colleague’s girlfriend. The girlfriend got into it, I don’t remember over exactly what, but probably over the question of war. I do remember that I took an immediate stance against any immediate action. Let’s wait, let’s not make things worse. Something like that, probably something like that.

Oh, and probably something about how this probably connected to something the US had done. Yes, this was terrorism, and no, the people killed didn’t deserve it, but given how the US acts in the world, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the world reacts. Something like that, probably something like that, is probably what set off the girlfriend. Or something the girlfriend said set this off in me. I don’t remember the specifics, “who started it”, just that we got into it.

Later, not much time later, the director said to me, quietly, that perhaps it was too soon. And I thought, even if I didn’t say it (tho’ I might have said it), that we have to speak now, before everything hardens, and further thought isn’t possible.

Later, maybe later that day, maybe the next day, I rode back up Mont Royal, stood at the terrace near the top and looked toward what I guessed was New York. Could I see the smoke? Could it reach Montreal? Were we all now breathing in the dead?

Melodramatic, I knew, even as I thought it. Besides, everyone would breathe the dead, they would soar around the world and we’d all breathe in everyone’s dead, the way we always had, the way we never thought we had.

A week later I was at the border, a black strip of fabric hanging from my rearview mirror, on my way to see M. & E. in Vermont. I thought it might take hours; it took minutes. No problems, no problems at all.

M. was still working, so E. and I tooled around, running errands, before picking her up (or maybe we ran the errands after we picked her up; I don’t remember). We had to stop at a store E. hated, thought was terrible. “I wish a plane had crashed into that store,” he muttered, and then we both sputtered with laughter. We were terrible, laughing at a terrible joke about a terrible event.

Later, over a year later, hundreds of thousands of us marched down St. Catherine and Rene Levesque; millions around the world marched against the march to war. For naught. I watched the CBC in disbelief as the President led the Congress, and the nation, into war in Iraq. I couldn’t believe it: it was all so transparently false, so obviously wrong, they couldn’t actually pull this off, could they? Yes. And no.

There’s more, of course; ten years, after all. And while I’m in New York now, having not been then, my memories are of the outsider, still.

Which is why I told my story today; let tomorrow be the day for the stories of those who were there.

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