I didn’t know Dianne Trottier. She and I lived in the same building. I would see Dianne in the lobby. In the elevator. Out and about running errands or walking her dog. The most that we ever exchanged were nods of familiarity and the occasional guarded smile.
Dianne was killed Aug. 30 in Fredericton, the victim of a hit-and-run. And it’s only in death that I’m finally getting to know my neighbour.
Dianne was not much older than me. She worked first as a writer, then as a producer for CBC News. She was a star player in the Toronto Power Wheelchair Hockey League. She did not allow her disability to limit or define her. She loved to cook. She was, by all accounts, well-liked, funny and fearless. Dianne Trottier was small but mighty.
I didn’t know any of these things about Dianne.
I didn’t even know her name because I never bothered to ask.
Had I only known that the woman with whom I frequently shared an elevator was a journalist, blessed with a razor-sharp wit. Had I only known that she was stupefyingly brave and outspoken. I’d often wondered about the accessibility ramp in my local grocery store and it’s only now I’m learning that Dianne was the person who placed the calls to make it happen.
Learning about this amazing woman now, after the chance has passed for me to get to know her, fills me with a combination of guilt, shame and regret.
When I was a kid, we knew just about everyone on our street. We’d play ball hockey and jump rope on each other’s driveways. The adults would share backyard produce, chat over fences and shout greetings across the street. Then we moved to a new street.
My parents have lived there for more than 15 years and I still don’t know the names of our next-door neighbours on one side. Not an uncommon occurrence in major cities.
It’s even worse in apartment and condo buildings, these people-hives that often lack common areas or senses of community.
We’ve become so guarded. In this age of guerrilla sales pitches and religious solicitors, friendly chit-chat is frequently met with suspicion. Being in an elevator with other people is a study in awkwardness. It seems so much easier to just keep to ourselves.
Good fences make good neighbours, true, but we’ve built up brick walls.