Wednesday, April 15, 2015


It was just under 9 years ago. It was a Wednesday in September, I was a student, but I had no classes that day. Instead I was at work in the grocery store which’s meager pittance helped pay for my school.

My assistant manager called me over to show me what he’d found. In a styrofoam cup he’d cling wrapped was a cold-stunned black spider. He shook it slightly & told me he’d found it in some grapes. As the groggy arachnid rolled around inside the cup, I noticed the red hourglass on its abdomen. Before saying a word, I placed the cup on the wrapper & covered it in another layer of cling-wrap. I told him what it was - that it was a black widow! - & he laughed & said he didn’t believe me. It took another coworker corroborating my evaluation to drive home how dangerous what he’d found was.
That’s my last coherent, positive memory from that day. 

The next thing I remember, my best friend’s mom - a second mother to me - was calling my cell to ask me if I was okay & if I was safe. A shooting had been reported at my school. My friends were all hunkered down & locked away in classes all over. The woman who would become my fiancée (& who later would become a stranger, but that’s a different story) could not be reached. Her phone went straight to voicemail.

The radio at work was reporting conflicting stories, but people being interviewed were saying that a girl had been shot. Two hours of frantic calls to friends, to my then-girlfriend’s family… Nothing. I was trying to grapple with the possibility that the worst might have happened. I worried for her, for the friends I still couldn’t reach, for the ones I had reached who were still on-site. How many shooters were there? In the end just the one, but the news was shouting that there might be as many as 3.

Finally, my phone rang. It was her, she was safe. She’d huddled in a bathroom in the basement for safety. The girl who’d died was someone else’s friend, daughter, loved one… Someone else would have to face the unbearable grief I’d only ever so briefly stared into the face of. 

I didn’t see her that day. She spent the evening, understandably, with her family. 

I met her the next morning, purchasing a zippo lighter that had seemed to call to me from a store on the way. It had a montreal flag on the front with a black border, as though it had been ready to express the mourning that the city was feeling in its bones that day. I placed it in my pocket, met her & hugged her as tightly as I could.

Our story went its own way from there, & doesn’t need rehashing here. But that lighter was imbued that day with a sort of meaning I haven’t ever quite understood. It’s been in my pocket nearly every day in the decade since that event & the few days it hasn’t been, I’ve known where it was. Yesterday that changed. I lost it (or, I thought I did) - I spent the day in a sort of panic, feeling exactly as I had in the hours I spent in uncertainty all those years ago.

I got it back. My new girlfriend found it in our apartment. But I felt better. I relaxed.

In that moment I understood something I hadn’t before. That lighter was (is), for me, a sort of talisman. All those things about that day that I find too difficult to face, all the unresolved pain & trauma & panic & fear I felt on that day are still with me. I’ve simply set them aside in an innocuous object so I don’t have to face the reality of my own feelings. It is a strange thing to understand something like that about oneself. It is a stranger thing yet to accept it as okay, as an acceptable compromise between living w/ trauma & getting therapy to resolve it.

& yet… That’s where I am.