This story isn’t intended to be a chuckle-fest. We all need a little perspective sometimes, especially when we’re hosting our own pity party. Last Monday night I got a sharp, stabbing dose.
On my birthday last July I was given a gift certificate from friends for a dinner for two at a local bistro, plus babysitting for our kids. Since Andrew and I stink at planning date nights, it had taken a weekend email from our friends to remind us that the three-month expiry date was coming up on Monday. With no time left and not wanting to waste their kind gesture, we arranged for the dinner that night, despite the fact that Andrew had house showings booked with clients at 7:00pm (natch). I brought my laptop with me so I’d have company while he snuck out between appetizers and entrees … because I am an understanding, swell wife.
Prior to leaving the house, however, an argument had ensued with our barometrically challenged 11-year old over what the appropriate outwear is for a daytime high of 5* Celsius. Our suggestion favoured a coat, or at the very least, a hoodie to walk to our friends’ house in. Bodie’s pneumonia-friendly proposal, on the other hand, was a short-sleeved t-shirt and goose bumps. Having reached an impasse, Andrew abandoned the conversation and walked Delia around to their house while Bodie stayed home to regroup.
I had missed much of this heated debate while getting ready upstairs, but I caught the fallout when Andrew got home. He announced, in some kind of “call-his-bluff” patriarchal short-circuit, that he had told our friends that Bodie would not be coming to dinner after all due to his not wanting to wear a coat, but that we would still be going out for the evening.
Those parental shock value moments always pack more of a punch when your co-parent isn’t looking at you like you’re a complete idiot. When I barked the first “WHAATT??”, echoed shortly thereafter by our son, Andrew then grabbed his shovel and dug a little deeper, saying, “He can stay on his own tonight, can’t he? He’s taken the babysitting course!” He was dead serious.
See, these are the moments where instant video replay would be so helpful in defusing marital arguments because we had just had that conversation not two weeks ago. We had agreed, or so I thought, that Bodie had to be twelve years old to babysit or to stay in the house alone at night. Case closed. Finito. Beyond that, I wouldn’t want his first kick at the can to be when his entire family was out merrily dining without him, even if he did bring it on himself.
So, not only did our son have the coat debacle to deal with, but he now had the added bonus of public humiliation plus a side of perceived paternal indifference to get over. That sting alone might have been the worst of it for me had it not been for the manhole of anger I’d fallen into over the bane of my marital existence: having to repeat the SAME conversations OVER AND OVER because they just don’t seem to stick the first SEVENTY-EIGHT TIMES!! (Breathe.) I, then, invariably start fearing the abandonment of other previously agreed upon conventions, like feeding the children, recommending daily clean underwear, or even expecting they attend school. Because that is how my fettered mind works.
Andrew eventually acknowledged the lunacy of his proposal and somehow managed to make things right with his son, because he is a decent human being and a good father, notwithstanding the knee-jerk blunder. I, on the other hand, could not make things right with him. Despite his apology, I felt utterly dejected, completely hopeless and unable to snap out of my funk. We have done this dance too many times before. The last thing I felt like doing was going out to dinner, least of all on a ‘date night’ with Dr. Spock.
But given the circumstances, we had no choice but to go, so we drove in stony silence all the way to the restaurant. After parking the car, we walked separately toward the bistro, and as I stood at the window fake-reading the menu, I looked back at the car and pondered whether I should just abandon the plan and go home. Anger had turned to self-pity by then, not only for the seeming futility in our marital communication, but for my inability to pull myself out of the mire.
That’s when I saw the body in the road. Dressed only in a t-shirt and sweat pants, a man lay motionless on his back, covered in blood from a hemorrhaging stab wound to his chest. He was only ten feet from our car, not thirty feet from where we stood and I couldn’t fathom how we hadn’t noticed him before. If he hadn’t fallen from the sky, he must have staggered out of a nearby house while we were walking to dinner.
As the usual flow of traffic started to descend, we blindly ran into the road to divert cars around the semi-conscious victim. Now much closer to the man, we could see the bloodstains on his shirt that ran from his neck to his navel, a wad of tacky cotton stuck to the red-brown gash where the blade had entered his body.
Yelling at a bystander to call 911, I raced to our car’s trunk to find a blanket while Andrew knelt down and offered the man his coat. They exchanged scarce few words that we’ve both been trying to forget ever since.
“Hang in there, okay? Help is on the way. Can I cover you up?”
“Do you have a knife?”
“Finish me off. Please? KILL ME!”
With that, the man sat up, blood gurgling from his chest, and staggered to a feeble stand. It was suddenly apparent that he was drunk and suffering a far greater pain than just his physical wounds. We watched helplessly as he teetered up the center of the road headed anywhere, nowhere.
We followed him up to St. Clair Avenue, a busy midtown artery, where he took to the sidewalk weaving in and out of shocked pedestrians before stepping back into the road and willfully throwing himself in front of a moving car. I turned away in horror as the sound of screeching tires blended with those of the sirens wailing in the distance. There was no thump. No sound of impact. He was still alive, in spite of himself.
We lurched onto the streetcar tracks to wave down the fire trucks and EMS. No longer a moving target, the man lay motionless in the road as paramedics flocked to his side to treat him. The drama was over. At least it was for us.
As the scene took on a life of its own, Andrew turned to me with a look so forlorn and reached out his hand.
“I can’t take anymore.” Gratefully, regretfully, I took it.
“Neither can I.”
In silent accord we crossed the street, clinging to each other as we walked back to the restaurant. The owner was standing at his window and had witnessed the whole affair. We were his only clientele that night as police had cordoned off the street for their investigation, so we spoke often during the evening, our mutual catharsis. He told us that the man had come in many times over recent months quite drunk and looking for more to drink. He said his wife had left him earlier this year and that his head hadn’t been right ever since.
It was confirmed later that evening that his wounds had been self-inflicted.
As we drove home that night, there was a quiet, newfound resolve between us. While we knew it wasn’t the last time Andrew would stick his foot in his mouth or that I’d brood far longer than I should, we both knew that the next time it happened, we might remember that man and what a fragile house of cards we’ve all built.