Part 1 - Clark's Story
Clark Lane sat in the front row of the auditorium, only half-hearing the buzz of thousands of voices around him.
He wiped his sweaty palms on his seat cushion. Again.
I never dreamed this many people would show up!
He didn't look around at the crowd. He was nervous enough as it was. But even without looking, he could hear that the turnout was tremendous.
There was one person here who understood his nervousness better than anyone else. Clark looked over at him again now.
Dean Parker seemed to sense his gaze, because he quickly turned to meet it. Dean's eyes were huge with the same nervousness that Clark felt.
Neither of them spoke. What could they possibly say?
What have we gotten ourselves into?
The crowd kept growing, and Clark's apprehension grew right along with it.
Dean finally spoke up. "I wonder where my parents are sitting. All of them"
"I thought you didn't want to know," Clark replied dryly.
"I know, I know, I haven't changed my mind. It really would make me more nervous if I looked at them while I was talking. But I can't help wondering...you know...if Dad and Marina sat anywhere near Mom and Glen."
"When you're staying with them, do you call your stepdad 'Glen?'"
"No, of course not. He was 'Dad' to me from the time I was eight years old. It would be pretty tacky of me to call him 'Glen' to his face now. Besides..." he shrugged, "...I love him. He's been a great father."
Dean started to take swig out of his water bottle, but changed his mind. "I don't wanna have to pee while I'm up there."
Dean turned and made another survey of the crowd. "I can't imagine how I'd handle it if I had to figure out what to call my two dads, if they were ever together. I've even had nightmares about it, especially when I found out that Mom and Glen were coming up from Dallas for the tribute."
"So why not call Greg 'Greg?'"
"Because I never knew him as that. He was 'Daddy' when I was little, and I couldn't have imagined him not being my dad, at least not until we moved so far away, and my mom started telling me we were never going to see him again."
I can't imagine what that would be like. Clark almost shuddered at the thought.
Dean didn't seem to have noticed. "I planned to call him 'Greg' back when I was working up the nerve to come see him for the first time as a teenager. After all, I was planning to cut him out of my life for good, and you don't call a guy 'Dad' if you're about to do that to him!"
Clark acknowledged the point.
"But that meeting...well, by the time the night was over...I realized I was proud he was my Dad. He deserved the title." Dean looked down at his hands. "I knew Glen by his first name back when he and Mom were dating, but he became 'Dad' as soon as they got married, and I know it means a lot to him. He still deserves to be called 'Dad' now, too, you know? He's been there for me, all these years, and I'm not even his kid. I can't demote him just because my birth father is back in my life."
"So, what are you going to do if the four of them finally meet up tonight? Are you going to call both of the guys, 'Dad?""
Dean shrugged. "I wish I knew. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what feels right when it happens. If it happens." He rubbed his hands together as if struck by a sudden wave of nervous energy. "Between you and me, I'm much more scared of what will happen between my mom and my...Greg...than I am about what will happen between my two dads."
"Well, this can't really be the first time that Greg and Glen have met, can it? Even if you weren't there when it happened, at least you know they both survived the encounter, right?"
"That's just it. It IS the first time. My dad almost never came to Dallas, because Mom never let him in the door, never let me see him, threatened to call the cops on him...stuff like that. And it just so happened that, the few times he did come to our house, Glen wasn't there."
"So tonight would be their first meeting? Man, now I get why you're so knotted up about it."
"Yeah...but, to be honest, though my stepdad had learned to hate my dad from listening to my mother, he tried to be open-minded when I confessed that I'd gone to see Dad at headquarters, and that we'd gone to his place afterwards. I told him all about what I'd heard when he was on that call, and what it was like to talk to him. He wasn't happy about it, but he was reasonable. Didn't try to tell me I couldn't see Dad again. But when Mom found out...you can't imagine what a Jekyll and Hyde she pulls whenever the subject of Dad comes up. She got so screaming mad when she found out I'd sought him out, and even worse when she found out I planned to see him again. And you can't imagine what it was like when I decided to live with him for the school year. It was Armageddon over the phone. She actually threw the phone across the room, and my stepdad picked it up. He was the one who gave me permission to stay with Dad." Dean's expression was downcast. "It's never been the same between me and my mom since I got back with Dad. I doubt it ever will be."
They fell silent for a few moments while Dean looked around.
Clark spoke up first. "I guess you wish they hadn't come, huh?"
Dean didn't answer, but his eyes kind-of glazed over like he was tuning out the question and everything else.
The crowd noise only grew. Clark still didn't look around to see the extent of it, but it took an effort to avoid the sight. The stadium was huge, with countless rows of seats arranged for a good view of the large platform, which was set up at what was usually center ice. Giant TV monitors, normally occupied with sports closeups, now stood ready to make sure every eye in the house could see the faces at the podium.
Clark tried not to imagine his own face up there, seemingly a hundred times larger than life. It made him queasy.
A large banner hung over the platform, proclaiming the theme of their gathering.
"TORONTO: TRIUMPH AFTER TRAGEDY"
Canadian flags draped everything, especially the display set up at one end of the platform. There, in high honor, stood tastefully large photos of the First Responders who had died on the day of the bombings. All around them, though smaller, were scores of photos of the civilians who had also died.
Clark dragged in a deep breath. For the first time, it occurred to him to let those fallen heroes' courage inspire him for the task ahead. But then even that seemed to backfire.
Donna's face was there among the honored dead.
He'd never told anyone, but he'd always had more than just a high regard for her. He hated to think of it as a "crush," since that was such a juvenile word, but he wasn't sure what else to call it. Sort of like the way he still felt about Jules, though of course he would never dare to let on about that, either.
This is not helping.
Guess I'd better not look at that display again.
A question from Dean made him tune back in to the present. "So, you still haven't let your father hear your speech, right?"
"Right." Clark's stomach went all fluttery again.
"I haven't let anybody but you hear mine, either." Dean started craning his neck around for the umpteenth time.
"And you really never did tell Greg that your mom and stepdad were coming?" Clark couldn't imagine such a thing.
"No, I told you that I would honor their wishes!" Dean replied with some irritation. "That was the only reason Mom was willing to come. She really doesn't want to see him, Clark."
Clark shook his head. "I still think that's crazy. I would have told him, and to heck with what they wanted. If they didn't know you told him, they would still come."
"Yeah, well, that's you." Dean surveyed the crowd yet again. "There's not much danger that Dad and Marina and Mom and Glen will end up close together in a crowd this size," he mused.
"Cut it out, Dean! If you don't drive yourself crazy, you'll drive ME there!"
"Ok, whatever." Dean rolled his eyes and gave Clark the little half-smile that somehow made him look more like Greg.
"Look at it this way, Dean. At least you know that both of your fathers will be here. I don't know if my one-and-only father will be able to make it."
"Aw, c'mon, what are the odds that something huge will go down tonight? The city plans to give all possible calls to the uni's. Your dad will be here."
Clark shrugged. "You're talking to the guy whose dad got shot seven times on the way to the hospital to see my sister get born! If anything can go wrong with him, it will."
"He still made it there," Dean pointed out.
"Beside the point," Clark drolled.
"Maybe, maybe not."
Clark didn't feel like debating the point, so he just shut up.
He certainly wasn't going to waste his time trying to find his parents' faces in the crowd. He'd followed Dean's example and asked his mom not to let him know. And besides, if he looked for her, he'd have to admit to himself how huge the crowd was.
And anyway, since his Dad was on duty, he wouldn't be sitting with Mom. He'd be lined up with the rest of the SRU officers, in front of the first dividing wall of the ground level section. That was worse, in a way. SRU didn't have that many teams, so it would be easy to scan them for a man of his father's distinctive appearance.
It would also be easy to see if his Dad's team got called away into action.
I'm not going to look for him. He didn't even want to admit to himself how disappointed and even angry he would be if his dad didn't show up, or couldn't stay, on this night.
It wouldn't be his fault, but I need him to be here!
He glanced at his watch, and his stomach turned over. It starts in less than ten minutes!
Dean looked back over at him, and his eyes were huge again.
I'm glad we're doing our thing near the beginning of the ceremony. If I had to wait through three whole hours of this, I might die before the end. Best to get it over with.
Dean began looking over his speech again, though he already had practiced it to near-perfection with Clark a hundred times at least. Or so it felt.
Clark looked at his own practice notes as well, but he couldn't focus on them. I hope I can focus on the teleprompter if I need to.
He killed time as best he could for as long as he could, until he couldn't stand it any more.
How much longer?
He was about to look at his watch again, but a new sound set all of his butterflies into overdrive. The loudspeakers had begun to blare the intro to the national anthem, and everyone was rising to their feet. Clark stood as well, of course, and nearly lost his breath at the size of the crowd he could no longer ignore.
"Oh, Canada..." he sang with the crowd, but then got choked up and only mouthed the words after that. The anthem had never hit him that way before the day of the bombings, but now it almost always did.
He glanced at Dean, who stood respectfully but seemed to make only a faltering attempt at the song. Come to think of it, he's lived in America for most of his life. I don't know if he even knows the words.
The song ended, followed by a lengthy period of applause and cheering. Clark drew another long, slow breath and settled on a state that was half terrified, half coolly eager to get it over with.
People finally sat down, and the emcee took her place at the podium.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of Toronto, thank you, and welcome. It's such a pleasure to see you turn out in such numbers to observe the anniversary of Toronto's Day of Courage. You notice that I didn't say, 'the anniversary of the bombings,' because that's not what we're celebrating. We're celebrating heroism, renewal, hope, and courage. We're celebrating Toronto!"
The cheers went on for quite a while.
"As you can see on your programs, we have quite an impressive lineup for this afternoon. In addition to our honored speakers, there are many in our audience who hold a special place in Toronto's collective heart. We have many people here who were called upon to show great courage on that fateful day, whether as injured parties, good Samaritan civilians, or First Responders. As you can see if you look around, there are many uniformed representatives of Emergency Medical Services, Police Services, and the elite Police Strategic Response Unit in attendance here tonight. We in Toronto have so many wonderful citizens and officials to be proud of!"
Another round of applause ensued.
Clark couldn't help noticing that, when the emcee mentioned the SRU officers, she nodded toward an area straight ahead of the podium. Clark had kind-of hoped they'd be on the opposite side.
It will be almost impossible for me not to see whether Dad's there or not, if that's where they're standing. His stomach did funny things again.
The emcee took up her speech once more.
"The events of one year ago today affected all of us profoundly, and I'm sure each person here has a story to tell. I wish we could give time to each and every one of you to tell us your stories up here, but of course time would fail us. So, as you know, we asked the public, from school children to senior citizens, to write their stories down and send them to us. Students made a long project out of it, submitting multiple drafts to make their entries as good as they could possibly be. We sifted through everyone's entries for the ones we most wanted to share with you, and I must say, the choice was agonizingly difficult. So let me assure you up front that many, many excellent stories could not be presented on our platform this evening. But I am pleased to report that we have a publisher already eager to make a book out of tonight's stories as well as many more that we won't have time for tonight."
"So, since we want to give all possible time to our stories, let me introduce our first sharer."
A photo of a very young child appeared on the monitors. Clark and Dean looked at each other with matching expressions of dread. When they'd been asked to submit photos, they hadn't imagined just how huge they'd look.
"In order to make things easier for our youngest sharers, we're allowing all minors to give their talks at the beginning of the program. Our first sharer today is Brittany Landess, age six."
Clark felt almost sick to think what horrors this innocent child might share, especially after what his father had told him about the collapsed daycare center. It turned out the child had been in there, but she seemed only to have been aware of darkness and fear, of a child who had been "stuck," of a teacher who helped them not to be afraid, and of a brave lady police officer who came and helped everyone get out.
Clark and Dean shared a smile, knowing that Jules was probably wiping tears away right about now.
The little girl finished with a few words about how everyone ought to be nice to everyone else, and then she was done. It was short, sweet, and a wonderful opening to the program. Everyone applauded generously, and Clark even forgot to be nervous.
The emcee introduced a ten-year-old next. He also spoke briefly, and it wasn't until his applause was almost over that Clark suddently realized he was next. His stomach dropped.
Why didn't they put Dean ahead of me? He's almost a year younger!
They were both seventeen, even if Clark's birthday was next month, and since "L" came before "P" in the dictionary, Clark was next.
Don't be ridiculous, he chided himself. Best to get it over with now.
The emcee stepped up to the mic, and Clark suddenly imagined his father's voice in his ear. Sniper breathing, Son, remember? I taught you how.
He slowed his breathing and felt the calming effect somewhat as he listened. But only somewhat.
Clark's picture popped up on the monitors. He avoided looking at them.
"Our next sharer has a very special and dramatic story for us, one that will take longer to tell than the previous ones...and believe me, it's worth every second. This young man has written with such eloquence and heart that I know you will be as moved as I was when I read it. Please welcome seventeen-year-old Clark Lane."
Clark felt oddly disembodied as he walked up to the podium. His feet were moving forward, but his insides seemed to have stayed in the chair.
The applause felt almost surreal. He'd heard plenty of it at his musical recitals and concerts, but from far fewer hands. Tonight he could almost feel the sound rushing at him.
Sniper breathing, just like Dad taught you.
He took his place at the podium and decided that the applause was, after all, bearable. But then it suddenly stopped, and the deafening silence demanded him to fill it.
He was suddenly very thankful for the teleprompter. There were his words, comfortingly familiar. He found that his voice worked after all.
"On the morning of the bombings," he began, "I had driven downtown with my friend Dean and his girlfriend." He flashed a grin at his friend. "You'll be hearing from Dean later." That hadn't been in the script, and Dean would know it.
That one bit of fun directed at his friend helped him relax, and soon his story flowed more naturally. "I left Dean and Mira to run their errands, because I needed to drive to City Hall for a permit. I had just parked in the garage and turned off my engine when the City Hall bomb went off."
He paused for a moment, his emotions taking him by surprise. Maybe it was the stories he'd heard from the little children earlier.
"I don't really remember the blast. Not clearly, anyway. Mostly just a sense of sudden shock and confusion and fear at first, with a very loud noise. Sometimes at night, in nightmares, it comes back to me more vividly."
He paused again. "Doctors tell me that I was certainly knocked unconscious almost immediately. I was still in my car, buried under a huge amount of debris. I do remember beginning to fade in and out of consciousness, but I don't know how long I was unconscious before the first time I woke up."
For a moment he felt an urge to look for his mother in the audience, because he knew she would be weeping. She always did whenever anyone went into detail about the family's ordeal. But he resisted the urge, because he knew he'd never find her in this crowd.
Grandma's with her. She'll help her through it.
"My first memories, like I said, were just brief flashes of consciousness, and they consisted almost entirely of darkness, confusion, and intense pain. After maybe the fifth time I woke up, I began to understand more. I still didn't have a clue what had happened, but I was finally beginning to think about survival, finally trying to assess my situation."
He took a sudden deep breath, because his need for his father's presence grew strong enough to break his heart. But, perhaps because the need was so great, he still couldn't bring himself to look.
"I remember becoming afraid that I was dying." He swallowed hard. "It was so hard to breathe...every breath felt like a knife going into my chest, and the air was so full of concrete dust that it made me cough violently...and of course that hurt, too." He paused again, feeling strangely guilty to be burdening thousands of people with his pain. The room was almost eerily silent, though he thought he might have heard muffled weeping. But perhaps that had been his imagination.
"I felt like I was drowning on dry land. And I suddenly came wide awake with the knowledge that I had very little time left to save myself, and no idea where I was or what to do."
He had to pause again. Something about the electric tension from thousands of listeners made the story thousands of times harder to tell than it had been in rehearsals with Dean.
"At this point, my mind zeroed in on one thing that I had to do. One thing that would bring help my way. One thing that would bring..." his voice broke, "...a hero to my side." He had to make himself breathe slowly again.
It was a very good thing that he could tell his story cold, because he couldn't focus on the teleprompter at all. He was back in the darkness and the need.
"For most people, the advice is to call 911, but that wasn't the number I wanted to call." Another pause. "I knew, all the way down to my bones, that I needed to call my dad."
And then his eyes obeyed a heart that could no longer be denied. He snapped his focus to where the SRU officers stood, and it took him only a few seconds to find his father there.
He's here! He's here!
Now that Clark had found his father, he couldn't look away. He spoke every word into those eyes, though from this distance it was hard to say how clearly he could really see them, and how much he was imagining.
He continued, his voice suddenly stronger. "I'm a teenager, and I don't always see eye to eye with my father. Sometimes things have gotten pretty unpleasant. But in that garage, I needed my Dad." His voice broke again. "And I haven't told him this before, because for some reason I wanted to say it to him here."
He looked down, cleared his throat, and shifted his weight. When he looked up again, the crowd vanished, and only his father remained.
"Dad, you're my hero."
His father's expressive face filled with more emotion than Clark knew how to bear. Tears flowed freely from his dad's eyes, but he never even tried to break their eye contact.
Clark finally had to look away first. He had a job to do here, and the newest round of applause had ended.
He needed several long moments to find his voice again. "The problem was, I was crushed in there, I couldn't breathe well, I couldn't see anything, and my phone was who-knows-where. I needed my Dad, and I had no way to get a hold of him, and not much time left. But it was life or death, so I started struggling to free one of my arms a bit, and started groping around to try to find my phone. I could only try with one arm, because the other one was too badly injured. Every move I made hurt so bad, but I had no choice. And I also had a lot of luck, because I found my phone at last, and it still worked."
He looked and saw that his dad still wore his heart in his eyes. Once again Clark had eyes for no one else. "I called my dad then, and let me tell you why. My father is an officer with the Police Strategic Response Unit, the SRU. So it didn't matter that I couldn't remember where I was. I knew he would move Heaven and Earth to find me."
His dad thumbed tears away, but kept his gaze steady.
"It didn't matter that I could feel myself drowning in dust and pain. I knew my dad wouldn't let me die. So I fumbled with my speed dial, and I called him."
Clark smiled a bit. "Now, you have to understand my relationship with my dad. He says it like it is, or at least like he sees it. He's not exactly subtle."
His dad laughed a little; a fragile, heartbroken laugh.
"He and my mom had been terrified for me ever since the bombings began, because they hadn't been able to get a hold of me. Once they found out from Dean's dad that I'd gone for a permit, they got really scared, because they knew I would have gone to a government building. I think my dad, in the midst of all of his rescue work...including things like triage, supporting the team member who rescued the day care children, that sort of thing...in the middle of all of that he'd tried to convince himself that I was just zoned out with my headphones on and unaware of the fact that my city was blowing up around me. He wanted it to be that. Hoped it was that. He was prepared to be good and mad at me for scaring him and my mom like that. He'd tried to convince her of that, too, you know, over the phone, in between dealing with broken bodies and trying to figure out who was doing this to our city and how to stop him."
He'd gone off script a long time ago, but nobody, not even the emcee, showed any concern about how things were going.
"Of course, I didn't know anything about the bombings. I still didn't understand that I'd been in a bomb blast myself. But I still wasn't surprised when my father's first words over the phone were...and please excuse me...'Where the hell are you?'"
Everybody laughed, and his dad looked away for the first time. He seemed mildly embarrassed, but when he looked back he was smiling through the tears that still shone in his eyes.
Clark noticed that many of the audience members near the SRU officers were looking at them to see if they could identify his father. He doubted that they had any problem figuring out who his dad was, even though others on the team were tearful, too. The officers were all looking proudly at his dad now, and those on either side of him each kept a brotherly or sisterly hand on him.
Clark began to love this moment, this precious time when thousands could witness this hard-won love. In this moment it was almost like...like the magic he sometimes felt when he gave a concert. When he played, sometimes a mystical moment came when the music seemed to become a living thing that reached out into the audience and connected them to him in a way that transcended anything else he'd ever experienced. His teachers told him it was an extraordinary gift that he had, and he yearned for that connection every time he played. It didn't always happen, though.
He certainly hadn't expected it to happen here, with his words instead of his music. But it had, and the love between himself and his father seemed to have been picked up and resonated by the audience into something greater than he'd ever imagined.
But he needed to go on with his story. "At first, I could hardly get any words out at all. My voice almost surprised me, because it didn't sound like me. I remember telling him that I couldn't move. I'm not sure what else I said. But I remember his voice filling with tears when he asked me if I was in City Hall. And that rang a bell. I realized that he was right, and I told him that's where I was."
He could see the teleprompter scanning ahead to get to this point in the script, and he figured he'd better get back on board with that so he didn't take up everyone else's time.
"From that point on my dad was zeroed in on me. He dropped everything to race to my rescue. Along the way, while he was driving, he kept talking to me over the phone. I will always treasure the words he said, about loving me and being proud of me. It's not that I hadn't heard those things before. My dad's always been really good about saying those things...most of the time." He heard a few chuckles because of how strongly he'd emphasized the exception. "But there, in that desperate situation, those words meant even more than usual."
"He also reminded me of what he calls 'sniper breathing.' My dad is the city's top police sniper, so he knows all about slowing his breathing down in order to keep his hands steady, calm his heart rate, and even slow down bleeding in an emergency. That was what he wanted me to do. He told me to slow down my breathing, and I worked on that. But I could feel myself losing consciousness again, and I couldn't talk anymore. It just hurt too bad, and I was so weak."
Suddenly Clark knew that he had to abandon his script again. He'd had no intention of mentioning this next detail, but now he knew he had to.
He couldn't look at his dad during this part.
"But my dad wasn't the officer closest to my location. SRU officers are constantly in touch over their headsets, so by now everybody knew my situation. Officer Donna..." he paused, choked up. "...Donna Sabine was one of a group of officers who got to my location first, along with a friend from EMS. They helped narrow down my location within the garage, and actually found me right before my dad arrived. They couldn't get to me yet, because I was still in the car, buried under all of that rubble. But at least my dad wouldn't have to waste time trying to find where I was buried. But the sad thing...the sad thing is..." his voice broke badly, and he had to struggle for several long moments to get his emotions back in check. "When my dad got there, Donna had to go back to the search for the bomber. The bomber killed her less than an hour after she found me. That's her picture over there."
He pointed back at the Wall of Honor on the platform. Donna had been the only female First Responder to lose her life that day, so no one would have any problem figuring out who he meant.
"She was a special person. I had met her at a few SRU social events, and just from those few meetings, I could tell why my dad and the whole team thought so highly of her. She had been part of my dad's team for several months, and now she was heading a team of her own. My dad had even walked her down the aisle at her wedding less than a year before she died, because he was the closest thing she had to a brother. And," he repeated, "she was killed right after she found me."
He had only glanced at her picture when he first pointed it out to the audience, but now he turned back to it, hardly knowing what he was about to say. "Thank you, Donna. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to say it to you in person." He wiped his face as he turned back to the audience. Nearly everybody he saw was weeping with him. "And Hank, if you're out there, I hope...I hope that somehow you'll find some comfort in the honor that we do her tonight."
The audience broke into applause, and Clark felt grateful for the chance to pull himself together some more.
He still didn't dare to look at his dad, or anyone else on the team, for that matter. He knew he was salting their wounds, and he could only hope that it was worth it.
After a moment he glanced over at Dean. His friend was wiping away tears along with everyone else, and Clark felt sorry for him. He's got to get up here and talk next!
When the applause died down, Clark felt ready to go on. "I do have to apologize to my fellow sharers, too. I've taken up more than my time, and I'll try to do better."
Several voices shouted out that he shouldn't rush, and that the program should just be allowed to run late, and similar things. He looked back at the platform, and the emcee nodded encouragingly. Evidently, he was okay. The little kids probably went short.
"All right...well...after my dad arrived, I'd already been buried for such a long time that I was really fading fast. I was back to rapidly moving in and out of consciousness, and, well, the fact is... I was dying. But sometimes I was aware enough that I could hear my father's voice shouting my name. I could tell that it wasn't just coming through my phone. He was in the room with me, and that comforted me a lot."
He cleared his throat.
"I passed out completely before they got me out. I don't remember when they actually got to me, which is no surprise because I was almost gone. I wasn't breathing when my dad finally got his hands on me to check on me. He told me later that it was the worst moment of his life when he found me that way."
He finally dared to look at his father again, and he saw what he had expected to see. Despite keeping his professional bearing, his dad's face was not at all the face of a cop. It shone with a love that was agony; an agony that was love.
The rest of the team didn't look much better.
I hope the team doesn't get called out on any sort of emergency. They're in no shape for it.
"They gave me oxygen and I came around pretty quickly. My dad said later that it was a good thing I came around as quickly as I did, because he felt like his heart had stopped, and it didn't start again until I started breathing again."
He resigned himself to a permanent lump in his throat. It just wasn't going to go away.
His dad seemed as deeply moved as Clark had ever seen him, though still keeping his decorum with his physical posture.
"When they got me out of the car on a backboard, and got an IV into me and all of that, I got a burst of strength...temporarily. And here's the thing...somehow, I don't remember how, but I must have overheard enough to make me understand that I'd been the victim of a bombing. So when my dad started to get into the ambulance with me, I told him that I wanted him to go back to work, back to policing. He said, "I'm not going anywhere, Buddy." But I insisted, I told him he needed to go catch the guy who had done this. So eventually he agreed and went back to work, and the ambulance took me to the hospital. I barely remember much of the trip, or much of the time before they took me into X-Ray and my mom met me. That brief conversation with my dad had taken everything I had to give. By the way, it turns out that I had five broken ribs, a broken wrist, a collapsed lung, a broken leg, and more."
The talking was easier now, but he knew there was still one more very emotional push ahead of him.
"My dad still had more important work to do that day than I could have imagined at the time, and in retrospect, I'm so glad I didn't keep him with me. But you'll be hearing more about that from my friend Dean in his talk, which is next." He glanced at Dean, hoping he'd see his friend more pulled-together than the last time.
Dean was definitely on the emotional side, but Clark figured he'd be ok.
"My dad and my mom and my friends were a huge support for me while I was in the hospital and going through rehab. During those months, I had a lot of time to think about everything that had happened, and I kept wondering about one thing more than others."
He looked back at his dad. "Being a cop's kid has some difficult challenges. One of the tough parts is never knowing if your dad is going to miss important events because he had to work. My dad missed a lot of birthdays, a lot of piano recitals, a lot of concerts, even some Christmases. And it's easy to resent that sort of thing when you're a kid, because you really don't understand the big picture."
Clark turned his attention back to the audience. "So anyway, like I said, though I was really glad in hindsight that I had kicked my dad loose to go back to work, I kept wondering why I had done that. I mean...at that point, when I had just been rescued, I had no idea the city was under a coordinated attack. I had no idea that lives were still in danger. What I did know was that my father...my hero...had come to my rescue, and had every intention of staying there with me. With me! Remember what I told you. He'd missed a lot. You'd think I would have grabbed the chance to keep him with me then, when he was insisting on staying anyway. What kid doesn't want his parent with him when he's broken up and heading to the hospital to face who-knows-what kind of ordeal?
"Why did I send him back to work? For some reason, this question kept coming back to me, over and over during the months that I was recovering, because I felt that the answer was important somehow."
He took a long, deep breath, and then turned to speak directly to his father.
His dad must have sensed that this would be a very personal address, because he seemed to come to full attention with his posture and his heart-filled eyes.
"Dad, I figured it out. I understand why I sent you to work, even though I used to resent how often your work took you away from me. It was because there, in that garage, for the first time, I understood what an emergency really was. I understood suffering. I understood the big picture. I may not have known about the other bombings, but I knew that the bomber was dangerous, and that Toronto needed you."
His dad swallowed hard.
"I used to know, in theory, that Toronto needed you, but I resented it because I knew I needed you, too. It wasn't until I was broken and desperate, needing rescue, that I understood a whole new meaning of the word 'need.' I get it now, Dad. I get it."
His father remained very straight in his posture, but he brushed away more tears.
"In that moment, I guess I knew that I had a contribution to make to the city's well-being, even though I was lying on a stretcher. I wanted to serve Toronto too, to give this city my best. And the best thing I could give this city, Dad, was you."
The applause was deafening.
Even dad's posture was starting to give way a bit, now, and his breathing didn't look much like a sniper's.
"So, in closing, I want to tell you the same words you so often tell me. I love you, Sergeant Ed Lane...Dad...and I'm so proud of you. And I'm so glad that Toronto had you and your team that day."
He stepped down off the platform to thunderous applause. People rose to their feet by the thousands, and Clark was now weeping freely.
He also was not walking back to his seat. It hadn't been in the script, and it probably wasn't what the SRU expected for its officers in attendance that day, but Clark walked back towards his dad.
And his dad met him halfway.
Cheers erupted over top of the applause as father and son wrapped each other in a lingering bear hug. Both the hug and the applause seemed to go on forever. The noise almost drowned out his father's words of love, spoken straight into his ear.
When they finally broke off their hug, his dad did that other thing he so often did; cupping the back of Clark's neck with his large hand, and placing a single kiss on the top of his head.
They remained in this hand-to-neck hug for a few more moments, and then his dad turned away to rejoin his team. Total strangers reached out toward him as he walked, and he returned the touch of a few hands. He was still wiping tears, and so was Clark. But it had been time for the moment to end, and it was okay.
The applause was dying away at last, and it stopped completely when Clark got back to his seat. But all the way back to his seat, total strangers had been reaching out to touch him, too.
He hardly knew how to absorb it all.
Dean hugged him, and he returned the embrace wholeheartedly.
And then the emcee began to speak again.