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I have been trying to tell a story over the last four days. I’ve sat down at this laptop and wrote words upon words but they didn’t tell the story. It wasn’t a bad story they told or even poorly written but it wasn’t the gut feeling story that I wanted to tell. And maybe this won’t be either. This has been a recurring problem with my blogs of late. I have something to say but just can’t put the words down in sentences and then paragraphs so that they’re worthy of being read. I can tell this story with much colour and passion, but can I write it? I’ll try but I’m afraid it won’t capture the real drama of what happened. Here it is.

I went to the Toronto Film Festival this week. I had never been in all the 23 years I’ve lived here. I always made some excuse: too expensive, too many people, long lines, etc. But this year my friend, Leslie, just handed me a piece of paper and said pick what movies you want to see on Wednesday/Thursday. I checked out the storylines and then eliminated anything that was past 7 pm because I knew I’d sleep through the last part of the movie and then have to get home. I came up with five movies. Then I put them in the order of my preference and sent it to her thinking I’d get one of the five. She gave me tickets for all five, for free. It was a gift.

I’d never been to a movie at 9 am. As other people hurried past the theatre on their way to offices, hundreds of others lined up to go to one movie or another. I was engulfed in a buzz of energy and anticipation from the people waiting in line to get in, talking about their picks of yesterday and today. It was like another world plopped down in the centre of Toronto on that Wednesday morning. I was hooked on the very air of the place.

The first movie was very French very chic and very beautiful and a little difficult for me to follow at 9am. By the time I read the subtitles, the scene had changed and a whole new discussion was taking place or somebody new was in bed with someone else. I got the general idea of this film about ideas — so said the director — but I’m not sure I liked it. I didn’t have time to think about that too long or discuss it with the others because we were off to movie number two which was starting in a few minutes in another theatre. This one was Mexican so I thought I could follow the Spanish better than the French but the main character spoke Mixtec so I was still a prisoner of subtitles for most of the movie. But I felt a connection with this one. It took me back to my six-month stay in Mexico with the barks of dogs everywhere and the knife sharpener whistling down the street and the friends of my sister’s middle-class house in the suburbs of Mexico City with their Mixtec maid.

The others were off to see two more films that night. I made my way out of the theatre and onto a very busy street. I felt like I was still in the movie, being a spectator of the scene around me rather than a part of it. It was twilight so the whole scene had a softness about it. The buildings were less harsh, the voices more melodic, the crowds more forgiving. I wanted to just keeping walking then thought of the very long, very steep hill that gets me from downtown to home. So I made my way to the subway still in my bubble of make-believe.

It was the usual going-home-from-work crowd with noses in phones and pads and a few books and newspapers. I sat in the side seat I always sit in. Just as the doors dinged to close, a tall, dread-locked man got on. I recognized him from other trips on this same subway. He was obviously troubled and probably homeless but had always seemed harmless too. He yelled his way onto the train. Then threw down his bedding on a double seat and then started to rant at women sitting in that area. One of them, a transit employee, got up and came back and sat with me. She became his target. He screeched his way down to where we sat and stood and yelled in my face and then put his very close to her and spit out the words, “Where is my phone?” She cringed next to me. I took her hand and held it until he made his way to the other end of the subway, perhaps still looking for his phone. There was a general murmur from the others on the train. One young woman brought over a cloth and some water so the woman next to me could wash the spit off her face. She said, “That was sort of scary.” And it was.

The whole scene yanked me out of the aura that the movie watching had woven around me. Or did watching movies all day help me to cope with the attack in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had just had a bad meeting or a sad encounter or a boring afternoon. I don’t know. Later, I asked my friend, Sarah, who loves and studied movies why she loves movies so much. She said, “Films help us think about who we are, where we come from and where we’re going. They show us who we should be as people.” I don’t know if watching six hours of film did that for me, but it certainly helped my heart as I sat there that evening.

The next day I was back in the dark watching three more movies and hoping that something there would click, and, as Sarah said, I would be a better person for seeing it.

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