Updated: Feb 21
That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
I’ve often heard that when you are about to die, your entire life flashes before your eyes, or at least the occasions that mattered the most. According to popular movie conventions, your perception of time should be slower and a white light should appear to guide you upwards. I didn’t notice any of those things when I laid sprawled like a dried and dusted starfish at Queen and Beverley on August 16, 2019 at 1:43 PM.
I’d biked for the first time to my job as an intern at CPA Canada, where I was two weeks from the end of my second term in Communications. I’d just visited the printers on the 6th floor of the building to put the finishing touches on my summer report. A friend had called me that morning to pick up an extra night shift at the law library, where I worked part-time during my MA degree at U of T. I had squeezed into a crowded elevator with my Herschel knapsack and plaid tote bag, breathing heavily into own neck. We worked half-day Fridays, so everyone from the office was heading out and traffic on Queen was still minimal.
I was not an experienced biker by any means, but I made a split decision to take a left ahead of an approaching transport truck. None of the friends who were excited I finally got a bike (!!) warned me to mind my perpendiculars, so there was a predictable tumble when my thin tire got wedged in a streetcar track. I must have instinctively stuck out my right hand because I ended up with a clean wrist break and no other injuries. I’d been wearing a loose black sundress with lace trim and purple shiny Jockey underwear. My first thought was that I was going to at least die with drama and in fashionable undergarments, as my dress had parachuted clear over my head for all the lunch crowd pedestrians to see. I craned my neck soon after hitting the ground and noticed my body was straddling both the East and Westbound lanes. The truck was still travelling West, while a streetcar was travelling East. I was in the way of both vehicles and there would be no time for either to stop. That’s when something inexplicable happened.
An Angel Man I had never met dashed out onto the road and pulled me and my beautiful bicycle Josie to safety. He assured me everything was going to be OK and (I’m told) hailed an ambulance that was headed elsewhere. The paramedics said he refused to move from their path so they had to call in back up to head to the other site. They positioned me on a stretcher and then took my bike to the ambulance first because they’d seen bikes with “less beauty and character” get stolen amidst past rescues. While I was waiting alone on the stretcher at the curb, a large tourist family gathered around me and spoke quickly in a language I didn’t understand. Moments before, I had started laughing uncontrollably. I’m not sure of the reason but I imagine it had to do with the chemical shock. I wonder how I compared to the other summer sights of Toronto.
The Angel Man completely disappeared by the time I thought to ask for him. At the hospital, I remember the ER doctor telling me it’d be three months before I could write again, which was unfortunate timing since I was starting my thesis year at U of T. However, I didn’t start crying until she snapped my wrist back in place. It was some of the most intense physical pain I’d ever felt, outside of when the technicians flopped my loose bones around to X-ray an hour before. A cab driver brought me home from the ER in my temporary soft cast and helped me wheel my bike back into my landlord’s garage. After I paid him, he looked at me intently and said, “You must have somebody who loves you up there.” The security guard at Toronto Western had given me and Josie matching hospital bands and taken her into his own room because he feared lurking thieves. “I know, she’s a really pretty bike!” I’d said when I picked her up, hopped up on pain killers. He told me to take good care of her from now on.
I learned quickly how to bathe, comb my hair, make a sandwich, and even write a bit with my left hand. Friends decorated my black fibreglass cast with their names using gold and silver metallic Sharpies. Every morning I woke up disbelieving what had happened. It was months before I came to terms with the fact that reality still held space for my physical body. People would always say, “ooo I’ve got shivers!” or something like that, when I told them about August 16, 2019, the Angel Man, and time’s window of error. And so it went on that I justified a higher power. I guess I remembered how to be genuinely grateful, not because it was fashionable or performative, but because I really did break down and cry when I sat by myself long enough to think about how I shouldn’t logically be breathing anymore.
Fast forward to November. I was out of the cast and decided to check out the annual Meet the Presses Indie Book Fair at Trinity-St. Paul’s on Bloor. I clearly remember walking there as if it were the most effortful endeavour of my adult life. It was a crisp, cold day, but it was sunny. I had homework to do and I was meditating on that, but some force pulled me to this event, so I let my feet find their rhythm. I started power walking down Huron after I found out over Facebook Messenger that the time of a big award announcement was going to be much sooner than I’d originally budgeted for in my route.
When I burst through the doors of the church auditorium, sweating and sunglass-ed, everyone was stock still and an announcement was already in progress. The speaker stood at a microphone immediately in front of a statue of a painted blue Madonna. His voice boomed and my breath felt maleficent, interrupting the reverence of the room. The speaker began a tribute to a late Canadian poet named Nelson Ball, who had made exceptional and inspiring contributions to the independent literary community throughout his life. Ball was obviously beloved by this group of people, as a palpable hush fell over the crowd. Then to my surprise, the date and time of his death was pronounced in memoriam. August 16, 2019, within minutes of my incident. I was convinced right away that it couldn’t be a coincidence. I walked home afterwards with shivers of my own, my coat flapping open in the wind and the sparkles in the snow on the sidewalk blinding my bare eyes. Almost every morning of autumn, I’d returned to the site of the accident looking for the mysterious man who saved my life. I’d asked at stores in the area, scoured alleyways, and peeked inside windows, but maybe he was never there to be found.
If I had been meant to die on August 16, 2019, and I’d relived any scenes as I faced up towards the sky on Queen at Beverley, I know the ones that would have flooded my mind. Almost like little inside jokes, some days have led me to people I’ve been unknowingly poised and privileged to encounter. I’ll be writing about a few of my favourites over the next couple months in this blog, as well as publishing some special features on the topic of fate vs. coincidence.
Thanks for reading along and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!