In the summer of ’99, my old dog had been put to sleep and I was grieving inconsolably. My boyfriend thought fondling some power tools might take my mind off things, so away we went to Home Depot. The plan was a dismal failure: I wept openly as I walked among the nuts and bolts and lumber and wallpaper and even the cordless drills. The other female customers glared at my boyfriend with overt hostility — you could almost hear them thinking “What did that asshole do to her??”. One woman even attempted a rescue, strategically positioning herself between me and The Enemy and demanding to know if I was okay, while tossing disgusted over-the-shoulder glances at the hapless boyfriend. All the way home, he complained piteously about his maltreatment by the estrogen-frenzied mob, prompting me to suggest that next time one of my dogs died and we marked the occasion by going shopping, I’d wear a sign saying “Please ignore: My dog died today”.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was one of those people who was truly traumatized by 9/11, so shocked and terrified that I was almost afraid to leave the house that day for fear of crashing planes and falling bombs. (And I live a long long way from the American eastern seaboard.) I was more than shellshocked: I felt like I had entered an alternate universe where nothing squared with what I thought I knew. It was one of those times when the mind is so jangled by conflicting information that it just shuts down and says “No”.
The next day I’d put things together enough to enter a sort of grieving stage, which kicked off, inconveniently enough, at Home Depot. As I mindlessly sorted through the bath taps, out of nowhere I was gripped by a great wrenching sob and suddenly I was in tears. But this time nobody glared, because everyone Knew, or at least Suspected, what was wrong: like so many that day, I was heartbroken. By what had happened the day before, and in a vague way, by what it meant was sure to come.
I got the first shadow of a glimpse of that about a month later, when visiting family in Toronto.
It was a typical morning with my mother, in retirement glory, relaxing with coffee and the Star. Suddenly she disgustedly exclaimed “Oh, great!” and I wandered over to see what was up.
Like most media in the aftermath of 9/11, the Star was fat with War News: articles about the attacks, terrorism, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, bin Laden, Arabs and Islam in general. The paper was open to an article that was headed with a graphic of elegant Arabic script. Mom looked up at me and said “First thing in the morning and I have to look at that??”, stabbing an arthritic finger at the graphic.
Let’s be clear: my mom was a lifelong liberal, albeit a moderate one, who voted for Alan Rock because of the gun registry, supported minority rights, abortion rights and all that other good stuff. Her visceral reaction to that graphic rattled me — not just because it was so out of character for her, but because I realized that, in some stupid, vicious, vengeful corner of my heart, I felt the same way. And it occurred to me that if people like us felt that way, something I knew even then we’d recover from with time, what about those who didn’t recover?
And as much as I’d like to think I’ve cried at Home Depot for the last time, I also think it’s a good thing that along with the power tools and paint, they also sell Kleenex. (But unfortunately, no Krazy Glue for broken hearts.)