Blindsided by an empty box on a sheet of paper.
Later, she would remember the incident and smile, but at this moment it was as though the wound that had been healing for the last seven months had been cruelly torn open. A dentist's drill going at her soul, with no freezing.
Without warning, the cover that had taken careful form over the hole inside her had been ripped off, taking the scar tissue, that crusty, "I'm just fine thanks," exposing a raw and pus-filled cauldron of anger.
Sandy stood at the counter, stunned by the sudden emotion. She had gone on a simple errand, to renew a routine permit that was about to expire.
It was the kind of thing her husband had always done. Despite the fact that they both knew they had fallen into the gendered moulds society prescribed, it had been a perfect system for someone like Sandy whose brain kicked into neutral in the face of official forms.
In the months since he'd been gone, a whole world of paperwork had invaded her life. Sandy felt embarrassed by her form-phobia, and vaguely resentful each time she had to deal with another piece of the mysterious paper puzzle that others took for granted.
This application was the most recent. She'd left it 'til the last possible day, bribing herself with Chinese food. Now she stood at the counter, awash in fluorescent lighting, the smell of government efficiency, and more anger than she had ever felt in her life.
There had been the inevitable form.
Date of birth.
Sandy wrote mechanically, her mind racing ahead to the meeting next on her agenda, and how she could move the business along so they'd be out of there by next Tuesday.
The chair was notorious for wasting time, talking hockey with the men, then racing recklessly through the business, which more often than not ran late.
Sandy suspected he did it on purpose. She was sure that if they ever did try to tackle the business seriously, he would be revealed as incompetent, and he knew it. Better to be kidded as a hockey addict than exposed as a man who simply didn't have what it took to fill the position.
Phone number at home, at work. That one saved time; they were the same.
She scribbled ditto marks and went on.
The world exploded.
Of all the forms she had filled out since the world blew up the first time, she had never had to make this choice. Now there it was, a blank box waiting to be filled, and THAT word beside it. An ugly word; a lie; a trap.
She stared at the marks of type on paper. Black on white. You were, or you weren't. The letters just stayed there, forming their vile word. She watched as they blurred and ran together, waiting to suck her into the nothingness of that small white box.
The anger was instant and all-consuming. It burned up through her gut and into every part of her body, forbidding her to move.
Silent and unacknowledged for months, the rage she had kept at bay finally saw an empty place filled it, with a vengeance. Sandy felt hot. She noticed her hand was shaking.
This is an outrage!
I suppose they expect me to do this right here. Is there no privacy?
The woman behind the counter snapped her gum and waited.
Sandy swallowed hard.
The man in line behind her was dressed in hunter orange and smelled of diesel fuel.
She felt sick.
The empty box waited silently.
She lifted the pen chained to the counter, took a deep breath and made a small "x". The pen left an ink glob that seemed to make a hollow sound as it smeared the form.
The box swallowed her whole and a new world began.
Beverly Brazier has lived in Whitehorse since September of 2009. She works with the people of Whitehorse United Church as their ordained minister.
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