In between a few snowstorms, cooking and caring for a terminally ill dog, home renovations, searching for new running shoes, maintaining a social life (to wit: the tragically romantic night of Valentine’s Day spent in a vast room with hundreds of people, including children-type people, to see Lemony Snicket) and hunting down the precise hip movements of an ancient dance rumoured to appease the Snow gods, a dance passed down from our teeny tiny furry Gwondanian ancestors to the ancient Greek woman across the street, I spend time listening to people as they tell me about their days and what they encounter. I also read a lot.
I like to collect factual, truthful stories about real people in real life doing real things because truth is stranger than any confected fiction. Everyone knows that. Look inside anyone’s head and see the thoughts and memories and regrets and fears and wishes and fantasies and nightmares pinging back and forth. Now, you might not accept that what I’m saying is true; however, strictly speaking, acceptance is not required for a universal truth is it? You might not know that truth is stranger than fiction but I do. And I have proof: other people’s true, real life stories.
For example, I heard a story of a less ancient, widowed Greek woman. She’s 80 years old and until fairly recently, has not locked the doors of her house for a minute of the 56 years that she’s lived in it. Her house is across from one of Toronto’s many subway stops and around a corner near a local hospital’s outpatient methadone clinic. Lots of people pass by her house. Business people and drug addicts. Students, soccer players and shift workers. Some good, some not so good. Some in their right mind. Others, not-so-right in their mind.
One morning she comes out of her kitchen to find a wild-haired, grungy guy in her hallway who doesn’t belong there. He grabs her and starts to haul her upstairs. She tells him she has a terrible contagious disease so he changes his mind and pushes her through the hallway, into the kitchen and makes her go down stairs to the basement where he locks her in. She smashes a window in her basement and calls out for help. The neighbour to the left of her house happens to be in his backyard with his teenaged son. He hears her, walks over, bends down to the window to hear what she has to say and moves rather quickly to call the police who arrive faster than you can spell Rumpelstiltskin and Scheherazade backwards while chewing gum, rubbing your tummy counter-clockwise, standing on one foot. The police arrive to find wild-haired, grungy guy in the kitchen in front of an open refrigerator stuffing his face with food. They arrest him on the spot.
The 80-year-old woman has turned 81 and keeps her doors locked at all times. The wild-haired grungy guy is in a federal prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence for home invasion.
You might think it’s a bad, sad and scary story. And in some ways it is. Who wants to find some random, confused drug addict standing in their hallway? You might also think it’s a story full of clichés. It’s that too. Fast-thinking elderly woman vs. drugged up, messy, grungy white guy, who may or may not have had a second thought about harming the old girl. Neighbours helping neighbours. Police doing what they do, justice system doing what it does. All real life. Humans being human. Systems being systems. Clichés, every one of them. Or wishful thinking.
Still, it’s a true story. I listened to it while I was on the massage table, blissing out to the sounds of waves and seagulls as gentle electrical currents pulsed through the acupuncture pins stuck in the back of my hip. When I floated home, I locked the back door and filed the story in the back of my mind. I was about to ponder some other stories when real life called and it sounded a lot like a dog asking to go out to eat snow.