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Posted in Adventures With Humans

Replacement Gloves

The summer of 2019, I drove across most of Canada four times. I say most, because the second time, I did not go east to anything in Quebec or further. My starting point was Uxbridge, a small town north east of Toronto, and my destination was Alberta’s Lake Louise where I dropped off, and then a few months later, picked up my younger son who was working at a fancy lodge there for the season. He could have flown, but he was studying the double bass at the time and needed to have it with him so he could practice. It was likely that such an instrument would be reduced to kindling during the onloading, or offloading of any flight, so I hauled son and bass to-and-from in my van. After dropping him off in June, I went all the way to Tofino, on the western shore of Vancouver Island; I was so close, and who knows when I would have another chance to get to the Pacific.  On the way there, from Lake Louise, I began a project where I would find random people and ask them all the same three questions: “Are you in love?” “Who has been the most influential person in your life?” and “How do you feel about the future?” I recorded their answers, and posted them along with photos I took of them, on my website. It was fun, and I loved hearing just a little about people’s lives, at that moment–in the middle of whatever they were doing, for example, sitting on the beach, or changing the oil in my van at one of those ‘Jiffy’ outlets. Each person was deep into the narrative of their life, and now, I was a part of that narrative; I was the lady who took their picture, and asked them those questions. Really, every person you interact with, even for a moment, you influence, become a part of their day, and vice-versa, and there is no telling when, and how such interactions will play out.
On June 24th, 2019, I was on my way back to Uxbridge and had stopped at a mall in Sault Ste Marie to get a snack. While walking back to my van in the parking lot, I heard quick footsteps approaching from behind. I turned to see a small, weather-beaten man running past. He smiled, pointed at me with both index fingers poised like make-believe pistols, and said, “Stay cool, little lady!” He continued on, at a slow, easy jog toward the sidewalk, possibly to catch a bus, or find a place hidden where he could unfurl his angel wings and take to the skies, because what a wonderful guy! He made me so happy! “Stay cool, little lady!” Who says that? Nobody real says that; those are words for mystics.  Now we, my mystic and I, had this in common, that moment there in the parking lot where our stories converged. I doubt that he made a note in his day planner: “saw tired-looking woman sulking through the parking lot;” I was heading back from my travels so I was feeling less than jubilant, but this guy changed the tone to delightfulness in four words.
Late one winter night in 1985, I was driving home along a main highway. There had been lots of fresh snowfall, but the plows had been out and cleared it all off of the roads into the ditches. For no reason, I happened to glance and thought I saw a vehicle tail light down an embankment off the road. I turned around and parked at the end of a driveway, got out and discovered that a car had indeed gone over the guardrail. I ran down as well as I could in the deep snow to the flipped sedan. I managed to open the driver’s side door and there, suspended upside down by her seatbelt was a rather bewildered lady, just kind of hanging there, her hands still on the steering wheel as if she was waiting for some carnival worker to restart the ride. I asked her if she was okay, asked her name and if she knew the date in an attempt to assess any head trauma sustained during her adventure. I helped her out of the car and through the deep snow up the embankment. We crossed the road, and went up the closest driveway to a house set high and back from the road. There were no lights on except for those at the front entrance, so we could see the door. I pushed the doorbell, and I wonder if the woman beside me, fresh from her car accident, thought that the angels were coming; the doorbell played music, a lovely tinkling kind of music box version of “Edelweiss.” While I noticed that it didn’t play the whole song, it did play enough that, say, someone could answer the door, you could enter, take your coat off and be offered a drink before it stopped. This could be a slight exaggeration, but only slight. We saw lights come on, and a man came to the door dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. It was late at night when most people would be asleep, so his attire made sense.  I explained the situation and he brought us in. His wife joined us, concerned and wanting to help. They sat the woman down, went about phoning emergency services, and tending to her. It seems that the woman had forgotten her purse in the car, so I ran out and retrieved it. When I returned, I didn’t feel right just walking in, so I pushed the doorbell again, and there was Edelweiss.  So much Edelweiss. Now the woman asked for her insurance that was in the glove compartment of her car, so down I went, came back, and before I could stop myself, pushed the doorbell again. More Edelweiss. Edelweiss that went on for ever. The man came to the door, “You don’t need to press the doorbell again. Just come in.” It was as if even Christopher Plummer had had enough. The couple seemed to have everything under control so I gave them my contact information and drove home, laughing, imagining the police coming to their door, then the paramedics, all pressing the doorbell.
The woman had been drinking, so was in some trouble but she was not injured, and had not killed anyone, so there’s that to consider however you may, but there we all were, playing our parts in this story. I’m sure that each person had a slightly different perspective on the evening. I’m glad that my perspective didn’t involve the distress of the driver, or the cursing of the doorbell by the house owners. I got the good part where I got to laugh about it.
May 21, 2022, and a tornado ripped through town. There was significant damage, but the only thing that happened to the apartment building where my mother and I were, was that the power went out. In most buildings with elevators, when the power goes out, the elevator descends to the ground floor, the doors open and they stay open. This was not the case here. I was walking through the hall, past the second floor elevator doors, and was sure that I heard voices coming from within. I stopped and hollered, “You stuck in there?” or something similarly brilliant. Two voices answered to the affirmative. I recognized them both. I’m not sure if they are married, or brother and sister, but they are both short. The woman has some mobility issues and is a rabid walker, out during the good weather with her walking poles. From what I have overheard in passing, she seems to nag her partner quite a bit, and he seems so quiet and tolerant, and I know, I am not seeing the whole story of course. Whatever their relationship,  there they were, stuck in the elevator. I don’t think they had been stuck for a full hour, but certainly some time had passed, enough for things to get stressful. Just as I began talking to them, the superintendent came up the stairs and the two of us spoke with the pair. I had recalled being stuck in an elevator in downtown Toronto a few years before. It was full, and I had been stuck right at the front. That elevator had doors that separated in the middle, so there was a slight crack in which I was able to get a purchase, and simply pull the two doors apart and let everyone off to freedom. I remembered how easy that had been. This door here was one piece that slid to the side, so there was nothing to grab. What I did was to lean against the outer door with my hands, and managed to move it into the door pocket with just the friction of my skin. This exposed the inner door where all of the mechanism was. I grabbed a protruding part and slid this inner door open also, freeing our captive, nagging couple. The woman was sitting on the floor, and could not manage to stand on her own. I ended up putting my arms around her middle and lifting her onto her feet like you might raise a rolled up carpet onto its end.
The pair was happy to be free. I thought maybe I’d get a bouquet of flowers, or a free coffee coupon. I didn’t get anything so I figured I could write about them.  The superintendent noted my method of opening the doors and mentioned that they would be reworking the building’s emergency protocol regarding people stuck in elevators since there is clearly no reason that they have to wait for the fire department as per previous rules. I’ll be happy with a plaque and a key to the city. Just kidding. Again, here is a story where everyone has a different perspective, and where all of our lives–the threads of our events wind in together in that moment.
There was an odd event with a kind of synchronistic flavour where the interaction was curious. I know that’s a hell of a setup.  November 7th, 2013. It was a cold, clear winter day. I was in downtown Toronto, scheduled to have a Thai lunch with a friend. I was early and decided that, rather than go into the restaurant and wait, I would take up some of the time by walking around the block. For no reason, I followed the sidewalk to the corner, crossed, then walked south to the next major intersection. I waited at the lights, and then crossed back to the original side of the road. Just as I stepped onto the curb, I heard a ‘thunk.’ I turned and saw that a lady had been hit by a van, and was now lying in the street. There was a crowd of people with me on the sidewalk but nobody was moving, so I did. I ran to the lady, pulling off my backpack on the way. I crouched down beside her and saw that she was unconscious. I looked up and motioned to a man who was already calling 911. I talked to the woman, though she was not responsive. She was already on her side, which was good because I didn’t want to risk moving her on my own. I pulled a towel out of my backpack(I had come directly from a workout at a cycling studio) and covered her legs with it to try to keep her warm. I noticed a pool of blood starting, coming from the back of her head, and bubbles coming out of her mouth. I kept talking to her, but this was not good. I held her hand. I remember she was wearing dress gloves, the kind that never fit, where the ends stay all pointy, and a sweater with a winter vest over it, still not warm enough for how cold it was that day.
It wasn’t long before a firetruck pulled up, and the first fireman out began yelling at everyone to get out of the way, as if he had seen enough in his years and didn’t really like people anymore. I stood up and backed out of the way before he could yell at me. I watched the scene as paramedics arrived, and police, and more onlookers. They put a neck brace on the woman, strapped her onto a gurney, and put her in an ambulance, her eyes still closed. The weird thing was that the only person who spoke to me was a paramedic who suggested that I might want to get rid of my gloves. I looked down and saw that they were covered in blood. I removed them, and it was so surreal to be dropping them in a garbage can. What the hell had just happened here?
I didn’t hang around. I was first on the scene, but I had not witnessed the accident so had nothing of interest to say to the police. I walked back up the street, hands in my pockets to keep them warm, and met my friend for lunch. You try sorting through a menu after talking with a dying woman lying on the road. My friend was great, gave me a big hug when I told her what had happened, and ordered my lunch for me. I had asked the “lose your gloves,” paramedic which hospital the woman was going to. I called there the next day, explained that I had been with the woman before the paramedics came, and wanted to see how she was doing. I was not surprised when the receptionist who answered my call said that since I was not family she could not tell me, but I was touched when she purposely made it clear by her tone that the woman had died.
That event was strange. Why was I early? Why did I decide to go for a walk? Why did I choose that particular route to walk, and why was I the first and only person to run to this woman as she laid there, on the pavement? The lighting was strange too; one of those bright, bleak days where the sunlight is harsh and unforgiving. And the fact that nobody talked to me except that paramedic; it felt like I was invisible. The police were talking to other people, but I just walked away, awkwardly, trying to work my way back into the normal world.
One question I think I could ask anyone these days without being considered a bit nutty is, “Are you okay?” To answer this question would require you to take yourself out of the flow, and take a minute to think about things. How is it that we show up for others, even those whom we don’t know well, or at all? And of course, “What’s it all about?” I know you could drive yourself crazy asking all of these questions, but I think it’s worse to take it as nothing, to not attribute any magic to the world, and slog through each day. A little, or a lot of Edelweiss was hilarious. My favourite though, was my mystic man, and his, “Stay cool, little lady!” I have that written on a card clipped to the lamp on my desk. In life, and in death, I think it’s the best advice.