NACI and the Knife

Yesterday I posted my straight up gut feelings about the situation at North Albion Collegiate Institute and in Rexdale. I realized, while writing it (over and over) that I had more than one story to tell, more than one idea fighting for precedence in my head. This is the second part of that blog, the part where I tell you about the time, in my first year of high school at NACI, that a knife was pulled on me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

I was a very awkward ninth grader. Still just under five feet tall, I was also deeply dorky. I was religious and could kindly be described as pudgy. I preferred the imagined world of LM Montgomery to the real world. If I could have escaped on the Starship Enterprise, I would have. I look back at my ninth grade picture and see someone so insecure that I wonder that she even made it through the foreboding front doors. Still, school wasn’t an option, so I went.

In the end, school was something of a haven for me, because it wasn’t my home. I learn in a way that compliments our current school’s system. Even while floundering due to personal challenges, I excelled at school. I didn’t make friends easily, but I was sociable and smart and I always found people to click with.

There were, as one would expect, people I didn’t get on with. One girl – a pretty, girl with perfect skin and teeth and a doting boyfriend, disliked me almost immediately. It wasn’t anything particularly egregious on either of our parts, we just found ourselves thrown into competing roles in shared interests like the newspaper or the steel band. She saw me as a usurper, I saw her as inflexible. We didn’t mesh (her teeth are scribbled out in my year book.)

What would be a mere annoyance in adult life was, not unexpectedly, drama in high school. One day, perhaps in an attempt to impress her, her boyfriend chased me through the school and out the back door. He was holding a knife.

It was genuinely frightening. He was twice my size and he had a razor’s edge personality that could slip from sweet to scary in a hairsbreadth. I ran like my life depended it on it. It may well have.

If one of my friends hadn’t said “He has a knife!” when he was still a good distance from me, if I hadn’t been a pretty fair runner, if he had been angrier or I had been the type to turn and confront rather than run and hide, my story might have ended like the one so recently in the news.

It didn’t. I went home. I didn’t tell anyone (parents or teachers or anyone in authority) what had happened. We avoided each other the rest of the year.

Then the next year, he and I had drama class together, and we became friends. A boy who had chased me with a knife became, while not a close companion, certainly someone I would sit beside on the bus and chat with. I found out that his father was not in his life in a way he wanted. I found out that he was often angry and he hated himself for it. I found out that he and the girl had not lasted, and that he felt like an idiot for chasing me through NACI with a knife.

I found out that he was a person.

This, I think, is the real tragedy of what has happened. There is no chance for the students lost that day (the one who lost his life and the one whose life will never be the same.) One moment that could have ended so many ways ended the worst way imaginable. Now we will never know who those young men could have been. They will be names thrown around when people want tougher laws or more busts. They may be names used to get services brought to a neighbourhood that sorely needs it. Still, they will no longer be just themselves. They are now tied together forever by a horrible second that cannot be undone.

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