by Geoff Ryder
There are defining moments in everyone’s lives, moments that change everything forever. I clearly remember my moment. It happened twenty-five years ago on July 10th, 1992 and began like any other summer’s day.
I was in the living room, sprawled out on my back with a superhero figurine held high in one hand and his arch-nemesis in the other. At eight, I loved playing with my superhero toys and could spend hours consumed in the perpetual battle between good and evil.
Just as the superhero was about to strike the villain, my attention was drawn outside, to the sound of two car doors shutting. Curious to see who would be coming to the house, I peeked out the front window. I could see them coming up the walkway, two men dressed in uniforms just like Papa wore. It wasn’t the everyday uniform he wore when he left for work, but what he called his formal dress uniform. Mama said it always made him look so handsome.
The man on the right appeared much older, with a big salt and pepper moustache and many medals on his coat. The other man was younger, closer to Papa’s age. In his hands, he carried a soot covered fireman’s helmet.
Mama was in the kitchen making lunch, singing along with the radio when the doorbell rang. Still humming the latest tune, she gave me a sideways wink and a smile on her way to the front door. Mama was always so happy. Seeing the men, her mood changed swiftly, her smile collapsed.
The older man did all the talking, while the second just stood there, his eyes focused on the foyer floor. I didn’t hear much of the conversation but a few words floated my way; “accident” and “we are so sorry”. Seconds later, wailing in anguish, mama crumpled to the floor.
Walking over, I simply stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. Mama’s long brown hair obscured the hands covering her face and her body shook violently with great wrenching sobs. Mama never cried; she was always so strong. When I gently placed my hand on her shoulder, she turned to face me, crestfallen. That face, with red puffy eyes and tear streaked cheeks, was a stranger to me. Reaching out, she brought me in tight, grasping me in a superhero hug, as if she never wanted to let me go.
The two men stood towering above us. When I looked up, devastation and loss was reflected in their eyes. The older man placed a comforting hand gently on my head, while the younger man placed the fireman’s helmet on the small table next to the door. Without a word, both men turned and walked back to their car, leaving us alone.
The helmet looked familiar. Through the black soot, I could barely discern the name Johnson – the same last name as mine. That was the moment, that defining moment when I realized that sometimes the good guys didn’t always win.
The figurines fell from my hands, clattering onto the floor. It was hard to hug Mama with them clasped in my hands. I wrapped my arms around her, rested my head on her shoulder and, although I knew, whispered, “Where’s Papa?” She never did respond; she just hugged me harder. We stayed like that for a very long time.
As a boy, it was fun to play with pretend superheroes. Now, as I’m pulling on my boots and pants, with the firehouse bell ringing around me, I think about that defining moment in my life – about what happened to Papa, about the explosion in the factory, and about how he sacrificed his life to save the trapped workers. Superheroes are actually all around us, everyday people. July 10, 1992 made me realize that Papa was a real superhero.
About the author
Geoff Ryder lives with his wife and three boys on an acreage in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Besides being employed full time in the Oil and Gas industry, he enjoys rock climbing, skiing and exploring the local mountains. With any additional free time, he tries to bring the many ideas in his head to life. So many ideas…so little time