#9 The police photos
About that January morning I was walking on the shoulder of a highway...
It's evening and rain lashes the windows behind me. Slumped over the dining room table, I’ve been holding my breath while flipping through the police photos from my accident. I try to exhale slowly so it doesn't all rush out in a giant sigh and upset the dog, but Five’s head pops up anyway, his eyes squinting at me over the fuzzy lip of his dog bed by the fireplace.
Like most Boston terriers, he's 99.9 percent demon. For such a scrappy, high-strung dog, he’s surprisingly sensitive to our moods and has been since we adopted him. His previous owner told us that she had to give him up because she started working full-time at a tanning salon. Steve and I fell in love with him instantly, but would soon discover that she hadn't socialized Five at all.
During his first few weeks in the city, he was afraid of strangers and aggressive towards other dogs. When his first owner wrote us a year later, asking us to give Five back to her, we said no. I've always wondered if the first year with her had turned him into damaged goods, changed him on a fundamental level that no amount of training could fix.
Now, looking at these photos, I can’t help but think that I might be damaged goods too.
There are six 4x6 inch postcard size photos in total, printed without a border. When I fan the photos out over the wooden table surface, I can see my fingerprints on the glossy print stock, illuminated by the light overhead. I should've been more careful handling these. They are the only documented evidence I have from the accident all these years later, pictures that prove the things I can't remember.
Someone numbered three of the photos (24, 25, 27) in black pen on the back:
But the final three police photos aren’t numbered at all:
That’s the truck that hit me. Is it bigger than what you were imagining?
Since they were taken in 2001, I assume they’re from a point-and-shoot film camera, but I don’t have the contact sheet. No negatives either. So what happened to the other 20 or so photos? Hold on. I’m getting ahead of myself again.
What I wanted to tell you is that I’ve never shown anyone the photos before. Not Steve. Not my family. Not friends. No one. When my lawyer gave them to me after the trial was over, I put them into a manila envelope for safekeeping and hid them in a shoebox. I haven’t looked at them since.
Over the years, the shoebox filled up with other photos from the years before everything went digital, travelling with me from apartment to apartment, and into storage when I was overseas, but never once—despite what my lawyer said at the time—did I want to look at the accident photos again. Yet they didn’t end up in the dumpster with everything else I owned before I moved to Bangkok in 2007, and I’ve often thought about them, wondering if I should just throw them away.
I suppose there’s a morbid curiosity that comes with looking at photos from a violent traffic accident, and I know that’s part of the reason why I held onto them for so long. But there’s something else too. Something that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Maybe it’s because, in a way, the photos represent a part of my life that I’ve tried very hard to forget. A reminder of who I used to be before the accident and all the bad decisions that led to that moment that put me and the truck on the shoulder of the highway that January morning.
Or maybe it’s because, in another way, the photos represent the part of this story I will never fully know, and that really bugs me. I have no memory of the truck or its driver or the eyewitness who got out of their car to save my life. None. Not even a single flash or dream-like scene that I could point to and say, "That's what happened."
And it drives me crazy sometimes because I want to remember. I really do. But no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to summon anything from that day and the photographs show that something concrete and tangible occurred, some more than the story I've been telling myself all these years.
I shared this next item in an earlier post (#3) but thought it would be worth revisiting now before muddying the waters with all the conflicting accounts of all the folks involved in this story:
It’s an article that ran in the Penninsula News on Wednesday, January 31, 2001. I am the 20-year-old Saanichton man who was hit by the truck. I never saw a copy of this in 2001 but found one in the archives at the Sidney Museum four months ago.
If we are going to do this together, I want us to have some sort of factual foundation for everything that comes next. So consider this our starting line—the police photos where time has slowed down and everything feels suspended until the starting gun fires and we surge forward to whatever finish line is waiting at the end of all this.
For my next post, I'll be breaking a twenty-year silence about why I was on that highway and what I remember from the accident. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this week's post. What do these photos tell you about the accident? And do they change how you feel about the news article?
Ghosting you for the past five weeks wasn’t how I imagined the beginning of this whole thing, but I’ve been away shooting in New Jersey, New York, and California for our next doc.
Shifting time zones. Rental cars. Feeling that airplane white noise in your ears even when you’re not on a plane. Spending 14 hours a day, day after day, with the same four people on set, in hotels, at restaurants, in airports until—BAM—you’re suddenly back home feeling like a stranger in your own life, scanning receipts for meals you don’t remember eating, chafing at the repetitions and rhythms that make your existence possible while conversely setting back into a too familiar routine.
Yet if the past five weeks have been as all-consuming as I knew they'd be, why was I thinking about writing here the entire time I was away?
Until a future Sunday.
Thanks for reading Ghost From The Past! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.