The Test

There are shards of glass scattered on the ground all around me. I stand on the corner of Laurier and Bay outside of my brother’s downtown apartment. There is a gaping hole where my car window should be. My frantic brain tries to absorb the stolen items: sunglasses, stethoscope, lab coat, wallet, passport. This can’t be happening.

I scream and walk around in a circle before assessing the damage again. Feeling violated and furious, I reach for the phone in my pocket with a trembling hand. Staring into the tiny screen, I am unsure of who to call first–dad or the cops. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. I want to vomit and my heart beats up into my throat.

The symptoms of a panic attack are quite familiar to me; I studied them just yesterday in preparation for my upcoming board exams, which are on Friday. Twelve years of academia will culminate in four long days of tests–oral, practical and written. I need to pass.

In the thick of my studying, my mother flew from Nova Scotia to Sudbury to help me with cooking and cleaning (neither of which are my strong suits). After a week of Mom, I had a freezer full of stew, chili, casseroles and homemade bread. My apartment was spotless–even my baseboards were scrubbed.

The exam was only offered in bigger city centres and I chose to write in Ottawa as I’d have a place to stay. I drove to the capital city on a grey Monday, giving myself a few extra days to get my bearings. I like to be prepared.

I found the largest suitcase I owned, and bearing in mind that residents must dress nicely for our exams, I packed a wide range of items: boots, shoes, jackets, cosmetics, jewelry. Then there were the essential tools for the practical exam–my forest green stethoscope and silver reflex hammer. I threw in my wallet and passport too, as government identification is required to write. The last thing I packed was a blue cooler filled with Mom’s frozen meals.

I took the long route to Ottawa to visit a good friend in Muskoka on the way. She reassured me I was ready. The fall colours and stretching roads calmed my anxiety. By the time I arrived, exhaustion had set in. My brother was away for the weekend so I had his apartment to myself. I locked the car door and carried the heavy cooler inside and upstairs. Plunking it on the tile floor, I stowed the tupperware containers away in the freezer. Thanks Mom.

The bed was so tempting. I figured it would be just a few short minutes of rest, but when I awoke, it was morning. I got the coffee started, slipped on my boots and went outside to get my suitcase.

Panic.

“Hi, dad?” My voice wavers.

We come up with a logical plan. File a police report, call the insurance company, cancel your cards. My mother books a flight before the phone call ends.

“I arrive at eight tonight. Look on the bright side, at least you weren’t assaulted,” she offers. Her raw optimism is somewhat comforting.

I slowly calm down and scan the car for any remaining items. My sensible, white running shoes sit on the floor of the back seat beside two cases of assorted CDs. In my open glove compartment is my ancient and clunky GPS. Were my shoes not nice enough? My music taste too lame? My technology outdated? I am strangely insulted by what was left behind.

Hindsight. Why didn’t I take my suitcase in? How could I have let this happen?

In the days that follow, I drop off my car for repair and pick up a rental to hold me over. The process of replacing my stolen items will take a while, but we get the ball rolling. Over the next few days, every time I approach my rental car, I think the window’s been smashed. I have to touch the glass to confirm that it’s really there.

Exam day. My car is repaired, my case is reviewed and I am permitted to write. After the fourth day, I want to hibernate for the winter.

Two months later, the passport office is full of faces, mostly with bothered or impatient expressions, each waiting for our turn at the kiosk. My passport is the last thing that needs to be replaced. There are still several numbers ahead of me.

The woman beside me sits peacefully, her bony hand resting on top of a wooden cane. Her hair is stark white, her clothing well-thought-out.

“Traveling soon?” I ask her.

“Yes, dear, Reggie and I are going to Florida in a couple of months like we always do. I wanted to get my passport renewed early though. You know how things can sneak up on you. How about yourself?”

Her kindness compels me to share. I recount the theft, how mom came up to help and about having to deal with all of this drama the week of my final exams.

“Number thirty eight?”

“That’s me,” I say.

“Wait,” says the woman, “did you pass the test?”

I look at her and smile.

“I did.”

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