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#3 Is the way you tell a story more important than the story itself?
A post about January and the beginning of an investigation into the past...
Think of all the firsts. First word. First snowfall. First grade. First book. The first time you could blow out all the candles on a birthday cake. First kiss. First job. The first time you fell in love. The first time you felt what it was like to be not just looked at, but to be seen.
When I mentioned last week that beginnings are hard for me, I should’ve also told you how beautiful a beginning can be. It’s like a bright yellow bird cupped in your hands, how it sings and sings to you in that final moment before you open your fingers, where all possibilities are still possible, and all the anythings and everythings could still yet happen.
I was born at the beginning of January, a day before my father’s birthday. I remember him telling me when I was young, maybe a few years after we moved to the coast from the prairies, that our birthday month is named after Janus, the Roman god with two faces who rules over beginnings and transitions.
“Do you know why he has one face looking forward and the other looking back?” my father asked me.
“No,” I said.
“It’s because you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
There were balloons, barking dogs, cake to eat, video games to play, gifts to open—I was too young and hardly paying attention then, but this memory and my birthday and another event in January in 2001 have become so fused that they are inseparable.
I think about this story from my father a lot at this time of year, which brings me to a question I wanted to ask you: is the way you tell a story more important than the story itself?
It’s sunny today in Vancouver, which is rare in January in this part of the world, and this morning I feel like I’m trying to catch a bright yellow bird with my bare hands. Now that we’re finally here, I don’t know how to write about this. Every time I try, the words stop and I end up sitting for hours staring at the computer screen, typing, deleting, getting nowhere.
But the past is always there, always waiting, and the old, familiar images are just one thought away: two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill on a highway, low winter sun warm on my face, a woman smiles at me and waves hello from her car, and the white line on the paved shoulder running parallel to a ditch filled with water and trash.
For the months and years that followed the accident, I relived the sequence of events that preceded it on repeat. For my lawyer, for the insurer’s lawyers, for the doctors, for the memory specialists, for the psychologists, the psychiatrist, the rehabilitation specialist, the home care team, the physiotherapist, my coworkers, my family, my friends, and even for the people who read about it in the newspaper.
The newspaper piece was tough for me, but thinking about how many people watched the accident from the stopped cars on the highway was much worse. Those two things together really upset me for a long time—the realization that strangers who read about it or watched it happen might recognize me on the street or at my work as that guy from the highway.
I’ve never actually seen the article. It was published when I was in the hospital. In 2001, there were no digital copies. No social media, camera phones, or traffic cameras in cars either. When my lawsuit and the court case were settled, I couldn’t bring myself to go search for it. I have a memory of my lawyer offering me my case files and me refusing to take them, telling him: I don't ever want to think about this again. But that might be a memory of something I wished I did/said at the time rather than something that did truly happen. In any case, I don’t have the lawyer’s files, but I do have the police photos, but don’t know where those came from.
The truth is I couldn’t even remember the date of the accident. Earlier this summer, my sister and I tore apart her garage in search of my mother's journals. My sister loaned them to me and I have been pouring through them again this week in search of information about the accident.
I was sure that I was hit by that truck on January 21, 2001, but according to my mother’s journal from that year, I’ve been remembering the wrong date. It was actually January 27, 2001. Now that I had the correct date, I went searching for that newspaper article and here’s what I found:
This is the beginning of this part of the story. This is proof that this happened, not just memories of what happened. These are the facts, as reported objectively by a third party. But what if the facts are wrong?
Reading this article twenty years later, some of these facts aren’t facts at all. I’m grateful I never saw it back in 2001 because I don’t know what I would have been able to do about it then. But I have the freedom to investigate and write about this now, so I’m going to tell you the parts of this story that are missing—and together we can figure out whether I can trust my memories of this accident once and for all.
Steve and I were in a meeting last week where someone kept saying “No matter what happened in the past” during a conversation about how past decisions were affecting the present and it made me think of my father’s story about Janus. Those Romans knew their shit. Not talking or thinking or writing about the past is my way of pretending like it never happened. But I can tell you from experience: avoiding the past doesn’t make it go away.
Last week I asked how am I going to prove all this?
There’s Elaine’s connection to my childhood, which is connected to the events around my mother’s death, which is connected to my accident.
Here’s where I’m going to start:
Find out who wrote the article about my accident and contact them if they are still alive
Make a Freedom Of Information request with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the traffic accident report and any related material (photos, witness statement, etc)
Attempt to recover an old Hotmail address that I used during this time
Contact the lawyer who helped me with this case and find out what happened to my legal files and settlement details with the insurance company
Find the doctor who was waiting in the stopped ferry traffic and helped me after I was hit
Continue to search for other eyewitnesses to the accident
Request the court records for the dangerous driving charge, which hopefully includes my victim impact statement
Request my hospital records
Request the records from my sessions with the cognitive specialists
Track down the guy who hit me, as well as the girlfriend who a passenger in his truck that sunnyday in January
I’ll share updates on a future Sunday. If you have some thoughts or ideas on how I should go about investigating this, please leave a comment or send me an email.
As always, I’d love to hear your take on this week’s post as well. Do you think the telling of a story is more important than the story itself?
Thanks for reading and talk soon!
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