That Unstable Summer
by Morris Marshall
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
It’s happened again.
When I turn on my computer to check my email before work, the headline from a local newspaper pops up in the Inbox. I click on it, and a picture of a smiling young man — maybe 20 or 21 — stares back at me from the screen. The police shot him yesterday, and family members claimed he was mentally ill. The third mentally ill person killed in just as many months.
Although I suffer from bipolar disorder, I’m stable now. In my forties, I take my medication religiously, and I have a good job. But, twenty years ago, I could have been that young man. During a time when I was feeling well, I stopped taking my medication, thinking that I didn’t need it anymore. I had no idea how wrong I was.
August 1993. The Toronto Blue Jays sat near the top of the American League East. A bright optimism seemed to wash over Toronto baseball fans as the team faced the prospect of a second consecutive World Series. In the midst of a slow economy, I had been laid off from my office job. Two weeks later, my girlfriend of six months broke up with me.
Saturday, August 15th. Late afternoon. My friend, Al, and I were walking along Rogers Road toward my house after playing pool at the local billiards. People lined the sidewalks, speaking in hushed tones. Police cars had blocked Rogers Road to vehicle traffic and several uniformed police officers were moving among the crowd.
“What’s going on?” I asked one of the bystanders, a teenage boy perched on a BMX bike.
“Some guy tried to off his family. The Emergency Task Force has surrounded a house over on Hillary Avenue.”
“That’s where I live. Do you know what number?”
The boy shook his head. “It’s all blocked off. No one can get near it.”
Al put his arm around me. “Don’t worry, Jeff. I’m sure it’s not your place. Why don’t we ask one of these police officers?”
I ran up to the first cop I saw, who was tall and stocky with short grey hair and a red, somewhat wrinkled face. “What’s going on, Officer?”
“Move along, Red,” he replied. “I can’t talk right now. We’ve got a serious situation here.”
“But... I live on that street.”
“What’s your name?”
“Jeff Donnell. I live in the first house on the corner, near the laneway.”
The cop stared at me as though he was actually seeing me for the first time. He put his hand against my shoulder. “Come with me, please.” Then he guided me along Rogers Road to Regent Street, where an unmarked blue car was waiting. “Put your hands behind your back.”
Before I could ask why, the cop slipped a pair of handcuffs around my wrists and tightened them. He directed me into the backseat of the car. “You’re being charged with careless use of a firearm. You have the right to remain—”
By that point, I wasn’t listening. A dull panic roared through my mind, crushing any thoughts before they had time to form. In high school and university, I’d always excelled at critical thinking but now, looking out the car window at the crowds, fear formed in my stomach, seeped into my esophagus and bubbled slowly upward toward my throat.
Without warning, a camera lens crunched against the window. I recoiled as a flash of light blinded me. All I could think about was how my friends and family would react if they saw me on City Pulse News that night. Top student turned con. How could I ever face the neighbours again?
The car started up and turned left on Rogers Road, leaving the crowds behind. Through the back window, I saw Al, a confused look on his face, standing on the sidewalk, talking to one of the uniformed cops. I imagined him pleading my innocence. We might as well have been on different planets. I had felt lonely before, but now I really was alone.
Once my eyes recovered from the camera flash, I glanced toward the front seat. The driver, thirty-something with a thin face, short brown hair and a moustache, was visible in the rear-view mirror. His partner — bald, clean-shaven, stocky and in his forties — did all the talking.
I’d seen cop shows on TV similar to Law and Order. You were never supposed to engage cops in conversation without a lawyer present. That way, they wouldn’t have anything to use against you in court. Still, I wanted to talk. I wanted someone to reassure me that things would somehow be okay again.
Baldie turned in his seat to face me. “So, you’re Jeff Donnell. How old are you, Jeff?”
I tried to smile. “Twenty-one.”
“You don’t look it. I would have pegged you at about seventeen. Are you in college?”
I nodded. “I’m studying economics and psychology at York University.”
Baldie let out a low whistle. “Tough subjects. I failed economics in college. You must be smart to major in it. I’m Detective Robinson, by the way, and my partner is Detective Adams. He’s a finance person himself, was an accountant before entering the police force.”
The thin officer behind the wheel looked at me in the mirror. “Nice to meet you, Jeff.”
“I’ve never been in a position like this before,” I said. “I mean, in trouble with the law.”
“It happens to most of us at one time or another,” Detective Robinson said. “We couldn’t find your mom or dad. Where are your parents?”
“My dad’s up north hunting. My mom was out shopping, but I’m not sure where she is right now. She has a mental illness. She’s going to freak when she finds out what happened.”
The car turned on to Trethewey Drive and, after a few minutes, pulled into the 12th Division police station. An electronic gate closed behind us. Detective Adams cut the engine.
I thought we were going to get out of the car, but we sat there in silence in the gathering dusk. How wonderful it would be if they would change their minds and let me go. Just open the back door and pretend none of this had happened.
“You’re in a lot of trouble, Jeff,” Detective Robinson said. “I guess you know that.”
I nodded. “Things have been tough for me lately.”
“I lost my job a few weeks ago. Not long after, my girlfriend broke up with me.”
Detective Robinson smiled reassuringly. “You were depressed. I’ve been there. But I have to tell you, Jeff, you really scared the crap out of the lady who lives next door to you. When that bullet came through the wall of her house and landed on her staircase, she thought someone was trying to kill her.”
I leaned my head back against the seat. “My God. I just wanted to take my own life. I didn’t even think—”
“That she could have been killed?” Detective Robinson asked. “Hunters use a 303 rifle to take down moose. That bullet went through two walls. Whose rifle was it, anyway?”
“My dad’s,” I said. “He accidentally left the bullet in the chamber. I broke into his gun cabinet.”
The detectives helped me out of the car and ushered me through a side door in 12th division. A clerk fingerprinted me and snapped a mug shot. Two new officers transported me to a different police division where more processing took place.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Morris Marshall