#12 See you in court
Here, at last, is one of the ghosts I've been searching for...
"I'm going to pull around the corner to park," Steve says. "Can you get back here in fifteen minutes?" He taps his finger against the clock display on the dash. "Don't be late."
Steve drops me off out front of the Victoria courthouse. The moment he pulls away I realize that I should’ve grabbed a warmer coat from the car. It’s late spring but still feels like January, and the low grey clouds don’t help. The rain and snow this morning have long since turned to slush, and the temperature is only going to fall as the day goes on.
I hunch my shoulders against the cold and take the front stairs two at a time, cursing under my breath when I discover that the doors are locked. I'm not sure where to head next. The courthouse is a striking 1960s brutalist building that sprawls across an entire city block. Its multi-level garden terraces, steep interlocking stairwells, and floating walkways lead to many dead ends. A fitting place for legal proceedings, I think, as I race around the side of the building, looking for another entrance.
Every door is locked, except the final one, almost full circle from where Steve originally dropped me off. After checking in with security, I'm enveloped in the familiar hushed atmosphere of a courthouse. Footsteps, hot air blowing through the vents, people nodding and whispering outside closed doors. By the time I find the records clerk's office for Supreme Court cases, I can feel the sweat starting to form on my forehead.
The courthouse clerk's office is dim and the overhead track lighting gives the space a dreary, institutional feeling. I try to catch my breath behind two metal stanchions connected by a sad-looking velvet rope. There's no one at any of the records wickets and no one else in line.
"Hello?" I shout. No answer. I check my watch. Five minutes left.
The clerk is a woman in her early fifties with a salt-and-pepper fringe and a permanent frown. As she settles on her chair behind the high counter, I tell her that I'm looking for information on a case from 20 years ago. She peers at me through a plexiglass window plastered with COVID safety notices and a laminated sign stating that masks are mandatory in this workplace. She's the only person in the building who's not wearing a medical mask.
"That's a long time ago," she says. "Do you have a case file number?"
"I have the police file number," I say. I read it out to her and her fingers fly over her keyboard. I can see the computer screen reflected in her wire-framed glasses. The two bright rectangles suspended in the middle of each lens give her face an unnatural, otherworldly glow.
"I’m the plaintiff in the case," I add.
She nods, not looking up from the keyboard. "Do you have ID?” she asks. She extends a metal drawer through the bottom of her window and I pass her my driver’s license. She holds it in one hand and types in my info with the other.
“Two things,” she says. “First, your last name is misspelled in the court filings. Second, we didn't start digitizing files until the end of 2001. Your case started in early 2001 and ended in 2003. So you’re out of luck.”
"Okay, but shouldn't my court documents after 2001 be digitized?"
She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose and says, "I don't know what else to tell you. The files aren't here."
On some level, I know that the clerk isn't trying to be unhelpful, but it doesn't make any of this any less frustrating. I check my watch. Two minutes left. I don't know when I'll be back in Victoria and I'm not ready to give up yet. I take a deep breath and ask, "If the files aren't here, where are they?"
The clerk's phone rings and she takes a long look at me, then answers it. I can hear the tinny voice of a person on the other end, but I can't make out what they're saying. My mind keeps going back to the court case that I thought was long over. Why aren't the files digitized?
The clerk cradles the phone between her shoulder, still listening to whoever is on the other side of the call. I do up my coat, ready to turn and leave, but the clerk finally says, "Uh-huh," and "I see," a few times before she covers the receiver and tells me, "Whatever wasn't destroyed was sent to the provincial archives. You'll need the dates of the order numbers."
Her eyebrows knit together in concentration as she grabs a yellow sticky note. When she's done scribbling, she puts it into a metal tray with my driver’s license and pushes it towards me through the bottom of the plexiglass window.
Back in the car, Steve is watching tennis highlights on his phone. He's pulled on a black toque and has the heat on full blast. It’s a La Nina year which means cold and rainy weather in our corner of the world until at least July. Even the weather is stuck in a holding pattern.
"Find what you were looking for?" Steve asks as he backs out of the parking spot.
I sit in the passenger seat, staring at the two dates on the yellow sticky note: September 28, 2001. September 25, 2002. I'm not sure what to tell him. Is this progress? Or just another dead end?
Two weeks later, I'm still waiting to hear back from the archivist about my court records for 2001 and 2002. The items I've requested have been stored offsite in a warehouse and—if they exist—will have to be digitized by the Royal BC Museum archives. They join a growing list of organizations that may or may not have the answers I'm searching for, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the auto insurer for the 19-year-old driver who ran over me.
Part of me wishes I hadn't waited so long to look into the accident because I'm starting to feel like it might be too late. After months of back and forth with Microsoft, someone from the media relations team finally confirmed that my Hotmail account from the early 2000s was deleted after two years of inactivity.
I haven't had much luck tracking down any other emails related to the accident either. My father hasn't kept anything from before 2008 due to a hard drive failure. I didn’t forward any emails about the court case to any of my sisters either. And despite all the tricks I’ve learned from making documentaries, I can’t locate the lawyer who represented me in the trial. He retired two years ago and has no online footprint outside his old law practice.
I'm not sure where to go from here, but I can't give up now. Frustrated with the lack of progress from my investigative efforts, I pull out the one box of personal things I've kept over the years from the storage at our condo in Vancouver. I have a nagging feeling that I've missed something. I remember my lawyer giving me more than the police photos, but I don't know if I can trust that memory.
When Steve comes home from his tennis clinic, I've pushed the coffee table against the couch and spread everything from the box across the red Afghan rug in the living room. Soccer photos. Postcards. Running medals. Letters from old friends. Every portfolio, every photo frame, every scrapbook emptied and pulled apart in case I hid any of my legal documents inside.
"What are you doing?" Steve asks, hanging up his coat on one of the hooks by the front door.
"I don't know," I tell him, which is the truth, on more than one level.
He nods and settles onto the couch to listen to a podcast, the most recent episode of You're Wrong About. After a few minutes, he asks, "Do you want help?"
"Not yet," I say. "Whatever it is, I'll know it when I find it."
I keep searching through the detritus of a life that feels increasingly like it belongs to someone else. Past selves stare back at me from the photos spread across the floor. The 18-year-old backpacker. The 26-year-old poet. The 30-year-old reality show host. I wonder what they would think about this increasingly desperate search. I think the 18-year-old would be excited by the mystery. The 26-year-old would be intrigued by the challenge. And I know the 30-year-old would be dismissive, telling me to move on and focus on the here and now. But I can't. At least not tonight.
There are no clues waiting for me here in the living room. No legal papers either. I know I can't change the past, but I can try to understand it. If my investigation has proven anything so far, it’s that the longer I wait to do this, the less likely I’ll be able to find any answers at all.
In a last-ditch effort, I decide to tear apart the bookcase upstairs in our loft. I’m thinking about my 20s, when I moved from apartment to apartment after a string of bad breakups, storing important things in old books that I love. As far as filing systems go, this is a really terrible one, but I’m hoping that tonight, it will pay off.
I start with my mother's Margaret Atwood collection, pulling books from the shelves one by one, holding them by the spine, and fanning the pages to see if anything drops out. Then move on to slim collections of poetry on the bottom shelf—Lorna Crozier, Mary Oliver, Louise Glück, Patrick Lane, Mark Doty, Charles Simic, Stephen Dunn. I'm three shelves deep when I finally find what I’m looking for inside the copy of Susan Minot's Evening that I bought after moving to Bangkok in 2006.
DATE OF ASSESSMENT: June 22 and 27, 2001
REPORT DATE: July 19, 2001
THIS NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT WAS CONDUCTED FOR TREATMENT PURPOSES ONLY. THE RESULTING REPORT IS NOT A MEDICAL-LEGAL DOCUMENT AND IS NOT INTENDED FOR LEGAL PURPOSES.
Mr. Horlor was involved in an accident when he was struck at a fairly high speed by a truck while walking along the shoulder of the Pat Bay Highway on January 27, 2001. He was apparently thrown at least 40-50 feet into a ditch containing water and suffered from hypothermia.
His last memory is of crossing the highway and his next one is of being in the hospital two days later. His Glasgow Coma Scale was 14 at the scene of the accident, according to an ambulance report.
As a result of the accident, Mr. Horlor fractured his right femur, which required surgical intervention. He also sprained his left ankle, and had other aches and pains.
Medical history is unremarkable and Mr. Horlor is not taking any medications. He is currently seeing a psychologist to help him during the terminal stages of his mother's cancer. Mr. Horlor is also receiving physiotherapy three times a week.
I quickly flip through the rest of the report, and the research psychologist who authored it flashes in my mind: long-brown hair, thick glasses, mid-thirties maybe. Her neuropsychological evaluation of my memory problems after the accident is eight pages long, including the relevant history section on the first page. How easy it would be to read through the rest of her report tonight. Skip dinner. Obsess over every word. Continue this deep dive through the bookcase until I'm certain there's nothing else hidden on these shelves.
But that’s the old me. I have to prep for an interview with the creator of You’re Wrong About tonight. We’re filming with her in a few days and I can’t let the accident consume me now in the same way it did 20 years ago.
Still, I hold Susan Minot’s Evening in my hand for a beat longer than I should. Hiding a report about my faulty memory in a book about a woman who is losing hers? That’s the old me too. So careless to have stored it like this, but here, at last, is one of the ghosts I've been searching for: the 20-year-old with a limp and a metal rod in his leg. The one who was told he may never be able to run again. The one who lived to prove the doctors wrong.
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