I was nineteen, living in downtown Toronto with my partner for the summer. We did a lot of going to punk shows, and a lot of drinking beer. One evening, our friends stayed over. We didn’t stay up late, didn’t drink much, but had a nice time. The next morning, I walked one of our friends to her streetcar stop, which was across the street from our apartment. We were walking across the intersection at College and Dufferin, with me just behind my friend. The crosswalk symbol glowed a half-burnt out white man walking.
And then I saw your car, about to turn left, right into the crosswalk. I thought you were going to stop, it was our right of way, but you kept going. You never stopped at any point, and were clearly in hurry. I would guess you were going at least 40km/hr. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You hit me, as I turned towards your car at the last minute. I ended up flat on my back in the middle of the street. That was when you stopped.
I jumped up, shot full of adrenaline, I didn’t feel anything at all. Frozen, my typical initial response to a threat. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. You got out of your car, ran towards me, and hugged me. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. You said, “I’m so sorry! Please don’t call the police, I have so much going on right now”. You were crying.
My friend’s streetcar came. I turned to her, “go, catch your streetcar. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine”. She caught her streetcar. A man who had been parked just down the street yelled, “call the police!’ to me. I hated the police. You were obviously not okay right now. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. I said, “listen, go pull over somewhere until you calm down”.
You got back into your car, and I crossed the street again and went home. As I entered my apartment, I felt the pain hit. My arms and legs were numb. My neck hurt so fucking badly. My entire body ached like the worst flu I had ever had. Like I’d been hit by a car. I told my partner what happened, and he told me I should have called the police to report it. To hold you accountable. I told him I was in too much pain to hear him out in that moment.
I want you to know that I have lived with pain every single day.
I want you to know that typing this letter to you may be the only thing I’m able to do today, because my arms feel like there are pins stuck in them that have been roasting in a fire for three days.
I want you to know that I have spasms in my neck, shoulders, back, legs, and arm every day.
I want you to know that finishing my undergraduate nearly killed me because I was trying to figure out how to manage my chronic pain.
I want you to know that I’ve been on countless medications, each with side effects worse than the last.
I want you know know that I spent years fighting for my right to medicate naturally with cannabis, and that the legal structuring of the laws around that have made it incredibly difficult to access and that the stigma I deal with because of it threatens my present and future every day.
I want you to know that starting my career has been made more complicated by my chronic pain. The career I’ve chosen involves shift work (including overnight shifts), physically assisting people at times, and a lot of emotional labour. The shift work fucks up the rhythm I’ve worked so hard to establish, the one that managed my pain, the physical assistance of people is simply not possible at times, and it’s hard to allot emotional labour for work AND for managing my own pain (not to mention layers to trauma). I have had to advocate for my physical needs, sometimes successfully, sometimes at the detriment of my career.
I want you to know that I regret not getting your contact information so that I could send you this letter, if not hold you accountable.
I was nineteen. I was young, idealistic, scared, and shocked. You were a middle-aged woman with a big fancy SUV who had the nerve to ask me not to call the police. You had the nerve to drive away. I thought you were going to stop, but you kept going. I don’t know what you were going through at the time, but you didn’t know what I was going through either. I wonder if you live with the effects of this event every day, like I do, or if you’ve forgotten. I wonder if you told your partner or your children or your parents or your friends or you coworkers what happened, and what they said to you. I wonder if you kept it a secret.
I thought the pain was going to stop, but it’s still going.