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NOAH RICHLER: Hello and welcome to Pivot. I’m Noah Richler.
A warning, if I may. Today’s episode of Pivot considers death and suicide, often graphically.
JASON BANFIELD: I had a streetcar pedestrian contact that was a fatality. My life changed that day. Everything that I was as an individual, and as a driver, whether it be the TTC or in my own vehicle…, I can remember everything slowed down at that moment. It was like my entire life was in slow motion.
BRAD PARADY: December 28th, 2016, it was quarter of twelve. And a voice in my head said, “you have to die now, Brad.” So I left my house and I drove the ten minutes to where I did the deed, and the only voice in my head was, ‘you have to kill yourself now, Brad.”
NR: It’s hard, this week in Toronto, my home and the city in which this podcast is made, to find the light. My partner Sarah, a mom to two wonderful young women was about to walk home from a dinner with friends a block from the part of the Danforth where, a child and teenager were killed, and thirteen others injured, some critically, by a gunman who is also dead. Fortunately, as Sarah was preparing to leave, a text to her host relayed the awful news as it was happening and stopped her leaving. Had the text arrived a moment later, and she might have been on the street where the murderous rampage took place. Chance kept here where she was and safe; chance ruined the lives of others.
No words can assuage the horror, but in time—words will provide an avenue, a way out, and we hope a way forward. For the families, for the fr iends, for the strangers looking on; involved and affected because chance made them witnesses … made them survivors. I was not there so all I can only speculate. But as someone feeling the grief of the community at large, I’ve been worried that the content of this show—again a warning, the subject matter is grave—should not be podcast in a week for many, of terrible mourning. And yet, just perhaps in the discovery of someone else’s experience, there may be some relief, a possibility of at least a seed of understanding.
Today we are looking at deaths unforetold—through the experience of a man who’s attempted suicide more than once, and another who through no fault of his own became in the course of his job became an innocent accessory to someone’s death. If either of these conversations risk upsetting you in ways you cannot handle, then turn this show off; and if you believe there is something to be gleaned from someone else’s unsolicited and unexpected experience, then you may want to listen.
JB: I’m Jason Banfield. I’m a streetcar operator with the TTC. I’m in my eighteenth year now. I’m also one of the safety people in streetcar transportation, and I train new people when they come on the job.
NR: Jason Banfield Toronto Transit Commission, was driving the Spadina streetcar south past Richmond when a young woman ran out of a store at that corner to catch the northbound streetcar in the far lane. It was raining, and she slipped under the streetcar Jason Banfield was operating. She died, and in that moment Jason’s life was irremediably altered.
JB: Everything that I was as an individual, and as a driver, whether it be the TTC or in my own vehicle… I can remember everything slowed down at that moment. It was like my entire life was in slow motion.
It was Spadina and Richmond, streets, southbound, I had just serviced the stop at Queen Street. So I was – I was powering up, I was ready to go, my light was green, and it was raining, it was in November of 2003. It was about 3:42pm.
JB: About. The weather was crappy, and I’ve got a couple hours to go and I’m done, like I was looking forward to the end of my day. And so I, I see the green light, I’m coming through, and out of the corner of my eye I see this… person. And I’m thinking, oh, you know, they’re just waiting for the light, and… then, a northbound streetcar came around the corner from King Street. So this young lady, she ran out on a red light to catch the Northbound streetcar. she’d come out of there –because I guess, like I said it was raining, so she’d sort of hiding in the vestibule of the store. At this point, I’m in the emergency braking, I’m trying to bring the car to a stop, and she turned left to look at me and our eyes met, and her momentum was taking her forward and she tried to pull back and she slipped, ’cause it was raining, on this curb, and she pitched forward. If you’re familiar with the old streetcars, we’ve got a center headlight and then two track lights that point to the tracks. The one on the right, the one where the doors are, that hit her head. And I remember distinctly the sound reminded me of… when I was a kid and I used to have one of those big red plastic reliable bats, the little – for kids playing baseball. But if you hit a real baseball with it, it made this thwump kind of sound. And that’s what it sounded like. And then I saw her head, and then she disappeared. I stopped immediately, and initially I was shaking, and I – I called it in, I’ve hit somebody, and then I made sure that everyone got off the back doors, because I couldn’t get the front doors open, because a part of her body was blocking the doors from swinging open as they do. And I remember taking my coat, which was hanging in a streetcar, and I came outside, and I – I sort of propped it up in such a way so that the young lady didn’t get wet because of the rain, I remember seeing the trail of blood sort of making its – like racing down, it felt like forever, and then I snapped myself back to what was going on. They came and did the investigation and they did the chalk marks, and there were witnesses, once it wasn’t my fault, I no longer had anything to do with the investigative end of it, so, I don’t know where it went from there.
NR: How did you find out the person died?
JB: B the police officer actually left, he… he said that it wasn’t looking good, and… found out a couple days later, the information was relayed to me through my management, that she had not survived.
NR: How did it affect you?
JB: Someone asked me how I was doing and I really hadn’t thought about it. Because I was thinking I remember seeing all these faces. So, it was probably the longest drive home of my life that day, because… I knew where I was going, but I wasn’t really there? And they – one of the things they did do is, right at the end, when they took me back, they complete the reports, etcetera, they had a employee and family assistance program councillor waiting for me there. And I remember saying, I wanna go to the hospital. I felt this rampant need to, I don’t know, maybe it was closure for me. And they advise against that. honestly at the time, I didn’t realize why. Again, hindsight being what it is I got it now, ’cause I’m – regardless of rather whose fault it was, I was the instrument of this young lady’s demise. And I’m sure the family – I was the last person they wanted to see. Didn’t matter what my intentions were. But I remember at that moment, on that day, I promised myself I was going to be a better person. Because… this individual had a story. I didn’t know he r. Didn’t know what her story was. I hadn’t – she may have been a grade A student, or she may have been an up-and-coming painter. I have no idea. But there were people that were affected by that day that I’ve never met, never will. And then I started to feel bad for everyone that witnessed that. Because here I was, I had the opportunity to talk to a councillor, But there could’ve been people there that had nobody to talk to. At all. That witnessed this.
NR: that’s interesting to me, because even in the moments immediately following contact, you describe the situation in which you’re thinking of others. . But what that meant is a lot of the feelings that were always going to be inevitable were just being suspended, and they happened later. Did-?
JB: Yeah, I think that’s – I think that’s safe to say. I think even now, here we are, we’re coming up on fifteen years later, and the one thing right now that really kind of grinds my gears is when people run out in front of me. I will be the first one to admit I make a really big deal out of it. I mean, I don’t scream and yell and freak out, but I do give them the, you know, if looks could kill kinda.. I look at them and I’m like, what are you thinking? And then of course I replay the events, and…, I mean, just yesterday I was walking down the stairs at a subway station, and I had a young person in front of me who was on their phone and they were so fixated on the phone that they almost walked off the edge of the platform, and I had to yank them back, and I – I looked at them and I said, you’re so fixated on this thing that you have no idea what almost occurred. Like, it’s not worth it, man. It’s not worth it. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
NR: It’s… almost shocking to me the degree to which a streetcar driver is on the front lines of often unhappy human experience. Folk with mental illness are on it, and especially at rush hour, it seems to me like it must be an extraordinary added task, I don’t want to say burden. to what the driver needs to do or is called upon to do.
JB: I think that the vast majority of the time we run into people who are upset, they’re not mad at me, per se, they’re mad at the company, they’re mad ’cause they had to wait, and I’m the first face that they see. When you’re dealing with people with mental illness. And the worst thing we could do is to elevate our hyperactivity to their level. Because then that serves no useful purpose. The idea is to try to be mellow. But it’s a delicate balance between being respectful of the one individual and their needs, their wants, their purpose for riding, and balancing it out against the needs and wants and comfort of the remaining people on the vehicle. Through our training, and through years of experience, we’re always looking to the next stop. We’re always wondering what the next stop is going to bring.
NR: Yeah. So going back to that day, it’s a – almost an elementary question. Did it affect your view of our mortality? Of life and death?
JB: On that day, I realized that it could happen to anyone at anytime anywhere. And so it became very important for me to try to enjoy each day, because I don’t know if it’ll be my last, but more importantly, to take care of myself and in doing so, hopefully take care of others.
NR: Would you define that as a watershed moment for you? As a moment of Pivot?
JB: My life took a really sharp turn that day, because… it changed – it changed everything. It changed my outlook on life. It changed… the way I drove. That’s not to say that I was reckless when I drove, but… it heightened my senses to the point where I could almost anticipate things before they happened. It’s a good thing that my approach to life changed because I think I appreciate it more. And it’s made me more sens itive to the needs, and sometimes the struggles, of others.
NR: Did you ever think of quitting? Did it affect your love of the job?
JB: No, you know, I never thought about quitting.
NR: And you have a special counselling role, within the TTC?
JB: One of the – one of the things that we’ve worked on for many years from a safety perspective was a peer support program. Peer mentoring program. And it was successfully rolled out in subway transportation. The subway transportation people, they primarily focus on, a person at track level. Priority one, is what the TTC calls it. When people intentionally or unintentionally, but – the traumatic events, or the impact that has on the individuals the two people on the train. You know, the guard at the back of the car, or the back of the train, is impacted in a different way than the driver of the train, because the driver is usually in a state of shock, but it’s up to the guard on the other end to sort of gather all the people, and I don’t want to say herd them away, but to usher them up the stairs away from the incident. ‘Cause, sometimes, the individual who is under the train is still alive. And so, it’s not the kind of thing that you could go home and talk to your spouse about. Or you could – at least not initially, ’cause some of the language that’s used, and the sounds, the… the being there, sometimes you just need someone who gets it. Who’s been in those shoes before. So that’s why the peer support program was really important.
NR: Now, I realize offering peer support is a whole, full endeavour, but off the top of your head, today, if you were to meet someone who came to you know with a similar experience, perhaps who doesn’t work for the TTC, what would the points of your counsel be?
JB: I think that… if I could convey one thing to the masses, is that, remember that everyone has a story. And sometimes they just need to be told. The driving of the streetcar is the easy part, it’s the people interaction that’s the hard part. There’s nothing I can do for their situation. Nothing at all. And then they get to their stop, they leave, I may never see them again. And I think we need more of that, people talking to each other. But whatever their story is, if… it’s incumbent upon me to try to help get them where they’re going. Figuratively, and geographic ally.
BP: My name is Bradford Parady, I’m fifty-three years old, and I have been a lobsterman for thirty-eight years. Out of Maine. And in recent years, I’ve come to Nova Scotia, Canada, to – to help a friend go lobstering during the first week of their season. And that’s how Noah and I met.
NR: Great to see you, Brad.
BP: You as well, Noah.
“Today I am angry at the world. I hate everyone including myself. I wish I was not here.”
These are tragic words that innumerable people—perhaps even you or I—might have written, but they belong to Brad Parady, a Maine lobster fisher, who wrote them in an agitated hand on the 2nd October, 2016. Less than three months later—and not for the first time, he’d decide to kill himself.
I thought I knew Brad. Back in 2012, we’d worked together fishing for lobster on the Bay Star II—which sounds recreational but is not. St. Mary’s Bay in Southwestern Nova Scotia is frigid at the best of times, which might be jumping off a wharf in the middle of summer to amuse yourself and the kids, but is no laughing matter at three a.m. on a windy November morning, fishing for lobster one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. And when it stops being hard, the twenty hour days seemed interminable, short moments of distraction to be found in the hull stuffing down a packed lunch amid shreds of pointless lifesaving gear or on a slippery deck facing each other, as Brad and I often did, across a tray full of lobster to be banded as the small boat lurches from side to side and back and forward. I liked Brad, humble and curious about others, he was a gentle American whose friendship with a Nova Scotian skipper was a relationship true to the region and one with a long historical pedigree, one that ignored borders, the land to the back of them and the waters of the Gulf of Maine their shared habitat and a highway. Brad seemed an easy-going fella, so I was totally unprepared for what I learned this last autumn on a stroll down to the Sandy Cove wharf where our skipper and his second——were preparing boat and bait for another season.
NR: I went down to the wharf and was chatting with Mark and Jeff, and I asked how you were, and they told me about the dramatic moment you endured. Can you tell me in your own words what happened and when?
BP: December 28th, 2016, it was quarter of twelve. And a voice in my head said, “you have to die now, Brad.” So I left my house and I drove the ten minutes to where I did the deed, and the only voice in my head was, ‘you have to kill yourself now, Brad.” It was a double-barrel handgun, and it misfired two times, and on the second misfire I stepped out of my body and I looked at myself, and I said Brad, do you really think you should be doing this? And I hauled the hammer back again, and I remember the gun going off, I remember the pain of the bullet entering my skull, it dropped me to my knees, I threw up, I got up off the floor and walked out.
NR: And you shot yourself in the temple or the mouth?
BP: Yes, in the temple. Yep. And the bullet is still in my brain. They’re not gonna take it out.
NR: You called?
BP: I called my ex. And she, I said, please call someone, I need help, I have a bullet in my brain. I’ve just shot myself in the head. I didn’t have sense enough to dial 911, but I called her.
NR: And I presume from there you went to a clinic, or?
BP: Yeah, went to a hospital in New Hampshire, then they put me in a coma, a medically induced coma for four days, and while I was in that coma, I had nightmares and hallucinations and I walked in hell. And I remember vividly, and I remember stopping and saying, “Brad, you don’t belong here,” and I turned around and I walked out. And ever since that day, or ever since – probably ever since shooting myself, there have been huge changes in my life. For the better. it’s been a roller coaster. It’s not been easy. Most of it’s been really really difficult. But a lot of good things have come out of this whole thing.
NR: Do you know or remember why you shot – or, why you chose to shoot yourself?
BP: I was sliding into a depression. I suffer from depression, bipolar, I mean I’ve been diagnosed with this a long time ago. And actually, when I was eight years old, I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to be dead. I hated being here, and so it’s just been – it’s been a long, long process to get to where I got. And then in 2016, I was slipping further and further into a big depression.
NR: Can you think back to the first thing that put you on that road?
BP: I would have to say financial insecurity was the first big thing. And then I would’ve had to have heard something about being worthless, or just you’re plain no-good. I have this fear of never having enough. I’m not into things, I just want to be able to pay the rent, pay – buy groceries, and have enough, you know to get my family by. – and I can’t do that. I can’t do that a lot. And so that makes me feel less than. Which is a huge… role in dragging me down.
NR: Were you taking medication for your depression?
BP: Yep. Yep. Medicated, and I see a therapist, psychiatrist.
NR: This is before December 28th?
BP: Yes. The medications have saved my life many times. And they don’t always work. I’ve felt at times like a guinea pig. Like, they try me on one med and it doesn’t work, so they put me on something else, then there’s all the side effects that go along with it. It’s been – it’s been a… it’s been crazy.
NR: Were you an alcoholic?
NR: ‘Cause it’s a – it’s a hard… it’s a hard profession, it’s a hard trade, lobster fishing.
BP: There’s a lot of people that drink in this profession. And you know, I never thought about picking up a drink once during any of this. And I haven’t drank. I haven’t drank for twenty-four years. But I wanted to be dead. I just wanted off this Earth. I was sober when I shot myself.
NR: Had you tried to [BP: Yes.] kill yourself before?
BP: Carbon Monoxide. In 2000. The police saved me. They smashed the window in on the car. And I was so angry. But then I became grateful. Just found gratitude and became grateful for being alive and for that police officer finding me.
NR: I mean, it’s a tough question to ask, and you’ve discussed it with more qualified people than myself, but how much of your – the depression you were going through do you think of as having been a dissatisfaction with yourself versus a dissatisfaction with the world around you?
BP: Nope, had – it was all to do with how I felt about me. [NR: Right.] And I didn’t have any good feelings about myself. I felt good when I was hurting other people.
NR: When you decided to kill yourself this second time, by shooting yourself in the temple, had you thought at all about – was it important to you what other people might think? What your family might think? How it might?
BP: Wasn’t even a – wasn’t at all in my mind. I mean, I have two daughters, they – they were there. At the hospital. But they – none of this ever entered my mind. I mean, my – my – practically my best friends that own the shop that I rent where I did this were asleep in the house next door, and I couldn’t even bring it into my mind to go tell them, I need help. No. It was a power that was – I had no control over.
NR: Do you have conversations with your kids?
BP: Yes.They were very afraid. I don’t know if they were even angry, I think they were more afraid. That dad wasn’t gonna be here anymore, and grandpa was gonna be gone. My sister is not angry, my youngest brother doesn’t appear to be angry, my parents are not, they’re just happy I’m still here.
NR: I was a heroin user for a while. I quit. It’s very hard for me to talk about that person now. I actually talk very rarely about me, Noah, when I was going through that, party because I feel hypocritical, because I feel I don’t know that fella, and I don’t wanna pretend to be him even by talking about him. Which makes me think that, you know, through our lives, we’re not always the same person. Does that make any sense to you?
NR: Are you the same Brad who was Brad before December 28th, 2016?
BP: No. No. Totally different person.
NR: And what has made you a totally different person?
BP: Well… I have to say… it’s God. It hasn’t – didn’t come all at once. But… that evil stuff is gone. I realized that God said, “Brad, I can’t stop you from what you’re about to do, but you’re not gonna die.” And when I went into that building and shot myself, I remember every single minute of it. And I walked out. Alive. And with a bullet in my brain. I filled my shoes with blood. My clothes were ruined. I mean, I was a mess. So I get these little bursts of God at the strangest time
NR: How does it feel to have a bullet in the brain? You’re going to be mindful of it, you know.
BP: It’s a constant reminder every minute of every day. I’m paying a price for it now. I’m having pressure in the side of my head all the time. And I have to take stuff to, you know…
NR: Alleviate that.
BP: Yep. So I’m paying a price
NR: Do you feel more peace now?
BP: Parts of me do, yep. There’s a lot more – I feel like I’m – I feel like I’m more honest inside.
NR: Are the things that give you happiness now, that did not before?
BP: It’s still the same things give me happiness now, but I’ve – I feel more connected when I’m in that…
NR: And what are a few of those things?
BP: First it’s my sobriety. And then it’s Jody, gives me great happiness, and my children and my grandsons. And my parents give me great happiness, and… definitely being on the ocean. My job, you know, being at sea gives me great pleasure.
NR: Did you meet Jody after December 28th, 2016?
BP: Yes. Yes. we met almost a year later. We met on a dating site. Yeah. We went out – we went out for coffee on a Friday, and the next day, she was on my boat. [Laughs] we haven’t been apart since [laughs].
NR: And did you feel it necessary to tell Jody that you’d shot yourself?
BP: Yes. Absolutely.
NR: So it was an unusual first date.
BP: I don’t know if I told you on the first date.
Jody: No, I think it was like, a couple of weeks later that he told me. I was in the parking lot of the – market basket that we were in.
BP: Oh, that’s right. It was – yes, you’re right, it was. I didn’t wanna dump it all on her all at once, but. You know, and I – and I wanted –
NR: So, by the way, I shot myself, [BP: Yes.] and next time you said, and by the way, I missed?
BP: [Laughs] [Jody: laughs] I didn’t miss!
NR: What was your first reaction, Jody, when… when he told you?
Jody: Actually, I wanted to cry. And I couldn’t believe all the people who just, like, turned his back on him. llike his family and stuff, and like, how could anybody ever do that? You know. And I guess they were afraid of what they don’t understand. I mean, I don’t full understand it myself, but I don’t think I would’ve run from him. Or not talk to him anymore, it’s just sad, it made me wanna cry. [clears throat].
BP: So I’ve been very up-front and honest with Jody, and… yeah, it’s been – we’re living together now, and I asked her to marry me. She said yes. [Jody: (laughs) yes I did.] And… yeah, it’s… [Jody: It’s been good.] It’s been real good.
Jody: We’ve had some bad days, but we’ve had more good days than bad days, I think.
BP: Yeah, and Jody’s very supportive, she goes to a lot of my meetings with me, to the – you know, my therapist and my psychiatrist and my doctors, and I go to her doctor’s appointments with her
NR: How do you think of death now?
BP: I’m still not afraid. I’m not afraid of death. But I’m not… knocking on his door. I’m not inquiring on how to get there. And I think that’s a big change for me. I mean, I’m still not afraid to die, ’cause I know we’re all gonna expire
NR: Why do you think you were spared?
BP: Well… That I haven’t completely come to grips with yet, but I think it has to do with what I did. I shot myself, and I lived, and it’s time for me to tell my story. To help somebody else that might be going through the same thing. I think it would be helpful for people to know that there is hope. Like, you don’t have to go to the extreme that I went to, to get hope.
NR: You’ve been listening to, “Who Knows What the Next Stop Brings?”, the seventh episode of the Walrus podcast series Pivot.
Thank you Brad Parady, and thank you Jason Banfield. Yes, Jason, and each of you has a story, a difficult story, and you told it. No easy task.
This episode of Pivot was produced by Angela Misri and Judy Ziyu Gu of The Walrus with the assistance of Seila Rizvic and Nara Monteiro and music by Charles Spearin. Should you wish, you can find transcripts, links and subscribe to this podcast at thewalrus DOT ca SLASH podcasts.
I’m Noah Richler. Thanks for listening.