October 31st, 2010. It was a cool Sunday night. I sat staring at the blaring television, still and mindless like the old lamp set beside me. I waited for the kids to ring my bell so I’d mute the volume and pretend I wasn’t home. I didn’t have any candy to give the trick or treaters. My phone rang.
“Susi,” a gruff voice said when I picked up.
“Stop calling me that.”
The voice laughed.
“Listen, me and a few guys are going to see Saw 3D tonight. Wanna come?”
“Okay. I’ll pick you up at 8.”
“Sounds good. See you tonight Marco.”
I showered and dressed and waited for my friend Marco to arrive. He got to my house twenty minutes after he said he would and drove me to the theatre.
“Hey, Susi!” Marco’s friend Mina Salib said when he spotted me.
“Stop calling me that,” I said as I approached and shook his hand.
“Ready for the movie?”
“I guess. I’ve never seen a Saw movie before.” I never had much interest in movies dedicated solely to torture and disembowelment. This would be new.
“All of them so far have been really good,” Marco said. “This one’s gonna be sick in 3D.”
We got our tickets, picked up a pair of 3D glasses, walked into the theatre and sat. The previews had started a while back and finished within a few minutes of us getting a seat. The theatre dimmed, the Dolby Surround Sound shot in sequence from the front of the theatre to the back, and the film began.
The first scene saw a man in a dark place crawling to escape the confines of a grungy grey room. As the scene progressed, I found out he couldn’t walk because his leg had been freshly severed. I cringed and held my uneasy stomach.
Within the first few minutes, the scene changed from the man in the grey room to a beautiful Asian woman in a belly top hung by chains to the roof. Two men sat strapped to each end of a power saw below her. A voice from a speaker above the contraption that held the two men spoke and told each of them, both current lovers of the girl, that they were being cheated on by the girl with the other guy. The voice went on to say that two people within that room would survive the saw, but the third would not be so lucky. It was the two men’s decision as to who would be murdered.
The lady strapped to the roof was slowly lowered towards the saw, screaming at each man to push it towards the other end to kill her other lover. The saw slid back and forth until each man decided they would let their deceitful girlfriend die to save their own life and the life of the other man.
I saw the woman lower towards the saw. I saw her beg for her life and try to manipulate each man to kill the other. I saw the blade hit her stomach and the blood spatter across the room. She bled from her mouth and her entrails spilled through her torn stomach to the floor. The theatre broke out in laughter.
I felt my lunch work its way up my throat.
“I can’t take this,” I whispered to Marco. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
“Why? I’m your ride and I’m not leaving yet. It’s too late to get a refund anyway. It’s just a little blood.”
“I don’t care. I’ll wait for you outside.”
I walked out of the theatre, threw my 3D glasses in the recycle bin outside, and made my way to the washroom. I stood above a toilet for a few minutes waiting for my dinner to come up. My stomach settled before I could vomit and I walked out of the bathroom towards the front desk to get a refund. I was a few minutes shy of being too late, and got all my money back.
I called my friend Paul who lived in a condo across the street from Square One to come and keep me company while I waited for the rest of my friends to finish with the movie. He wasn’t doing much so he came.
“Why are you out here?” he asked.
“I couldn’t stomach it. Have you ever seen any of the Saws?”
“I saw all of them except this new one. They’re pretty good.”
“I almost threw up.”
“You know Minas,” Paul said. “Sometimes I think you’re a little girl.”
“I’ll take it,” I said. I didn’t care too much about proving myself a man if it meant I had to sit through that movie.
I went to work early the next day. I worked part time as a respite worker. I helped a young man with Fragile X syndrome who I’ll call Tom, two years older than me, volunteer at his sister’s high school.
Tom was ethnically half Assyrian, half Chaldean, both ancient Iraqi Christian sects and two of the oldest churches in the world.
The young man told me stories about his family and friends as I helped him pack the pop cans into the fridge behind the cashier’s counter in the school cafeteria. He tried to rearrange the pop in a way he thought was better.
“No my friend, you can’t do that,” Maria, the portly Philipino head cook said in her sweet, playful way. “We need the pop cans exactly where they were before.”
“No no this is better,” Tom said, brushing Maria’s words aside with a flick of his wrist.
“Now Tom,” I said. “You already know if we don’t get those pop cans where they need to be, I’m gonna have to call the police.”
“Oh come on,” Tom said as he smiled and picked and placed the pop cans back where they needed to be. He only ever heard me out when I was playful with him.
Tom and I finished our morning routine in the cafeteria and headed to the library for a break. He went on YouTube and watched WWE videos, he loved wrestling, and I read the news about the Middle East. The news that day was especially grim.
Sayidat al Najat, or Our Lady of Salvation, a church in Baghdad, was swarmed by six men strapped with submachine guns and grenades. After declaring the congregants infidels, they shot the priest on the altar and shot at every man, woman and child they could spot. They shot the chandelier that hung above the crowd. It fell and shattered on and around the people of the church. They killed mothers and fathers and their children. The plainclothes guerillas claimed they would kill anyone who made a sound. The shooters said they too would die that day, but they would go to heaven for killing those that God hates, and their victims would go to hell.
Hundreds of soldiers of the Iraqi army sat still at their posts outside the church, shooting randomly inside the church. Some outside the premises said they saw smoke float out from inside the church through the bullet holes and dissipate into Baghdad’s empty sky, smoke from the gunshots and the grenades that were set off after the last bullet was shot and the suicide belts the guerillas detonated that shot out ball bearings and shrapnel that blew their bodies to pieces and severed the bodies of those around them.
I saw the pictures of the aftermath. The pews shattered and the fallen chandelier and the blood that stained the floors and walls and everything around it and the corpses dismembered and limp that were still whole with life and spirit just hours before.
58 people died in that siege, October 31st, 2010.
I slunk back into my chair and turned my head towards Tom. He focused on his screen and smiled. I turned my head back to my own computer and wondered. About my life, about my friend’s life. His family escaped Iraq long before he was born. But what if they hadn’t? They could have stayed. They could have been in that church.
Did their family or friends attend that church? If they did, were they at that liturgy? Did they make it out alive?
On October 31st, 2010, I hovered my heavy head above a toilet at Famous Players and waited for my stomach to rest, trying to block out the images of the Asian girl cut in half by a power saw as everyone in the theatre laughed. On October 31st, 2010, thousands of miles away, Iraqi Catholics of the Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Baghdad were shot at, maimed and mutilated by grenades, ball bearings and shrapnel – men, women and children alike, by men who thought these people were less than animals.
I found it interesting how we as Canadians live such safe, sheltered lives – low crime rates, low gun violence and murder rates – and yet we revel at the murder of innocent people as entertainment.
But there are people in this world with a true blade held to their neck for no other reason than their ethnicity or religion or skin colour or any other manufactured excuse to hate and hurt another.
I spoke with Tom’s mother after the incident occurred. I told her I was sorry for what happened and asked if any of her family was in the church.
“I don’t think anyone I knew was there,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter. We consider them all our family. They are our people.”
Though she didn’t know them, she shared one heart with them. Their hurt was her hurt. Their blood was her blood. And unlike the farce the media has made human life to be, blood is relevant.