A year ago this morning I was soaking in the tub at Walden, listening to the shocking news on CBC Radio. I couldn’t believe it. The world had changed. The PC Party had formed a coalition with the Alliance dissidents to form the Progressive Conservative Democratic Representative Caucus! Then the phone rang. It was Suzy in Ottawa.
“Did you hear the news?”
“Yes. Can you believe that! What a stupid thing!”
“I’m just sitting here shaking. Mom called because Dad is flying out of New York this morning … it’s just so terrible!”
“I still think Joe will survive this.”
* * *
The real news was more difficult to believe, of course. I was in PEI to be with Dad, who was dying of cancer. And now the US was under attack. By the time I got from Walden to the hospital in Charlottetown (with CBC Charlottetown still not talking about the news from New York!) the towers had fallen. The ticket agent at visitor parking barked it to me as I drove past: “The towers are GONE! They’re GONE!”
Dad was in bad shape. He was to have a third round of radiation therapy September 11, an attempt to control the tumours in his neck. I met Joan (his wife) at the cancer clinic. Dad was isolated in the chamber, leaving us behind the lead wall with the technician. Soft muzac was playing — a messy collision of synthesized Kenny G and Anne Murray. I remember thinking of the hospital administration meetings that led to the selection of this crap: “It will be soothing for the families.” Joan and I could only see Dad on two tiny monitors next to a computer. He looked terrible. “It’s just a nightmare”, Joan said. “And what’s going on in the US?”
Dad was wheeled out a few minutes later. He was silent, somehow shrunken. He didn’t look up at us. By that point, I had lost hope for him. I wasn’t wasting time on denial; his doctor had told me he had about two weeks left, and to not tell Joan or anyone else. I just wanted to spend a little time with my Dad. I knew that despite our rocky relationship I would miss the sound of his voice once he was gone. I do. On the way back to Dad’s room we passed a rest area. A crowd of patients had gathered, most semi-dressed in blue scrubs and slippers, clutching IV racks or slumped in wheel chairs. I added Dad to the collection of sadness.
The group was silent, staring at the TV. That was the first time I saw the towers fall. I think I startled a few people when I yelled “Holy Shit!”. No one else made a sound. Dad was unimpressed, or unaware. The only light moment came as the news sunk in and as the crowd thinned. A nurse turned to me, grabbed my shoulder as if needing to restore her balance, and said, “Oh, Gawd! Do you suppose they’ll hit Confederation Bridge next?!!”
Listen to an excerpt from “Heroes” by David Bowie.