By Robin Nish (a.k.a. Ms. Aikins)
Phone calls that wake us in the middle of the night cause confusion and panic - it's dark, everyone should be safely asleep, and the phone shouldn't be ringing. But the call that woke me up on that July Tuesday morning came at 6 a.m. when the sunlight was filling my bedroom, the Montreal heat wave already in motion. As I got up to cross the room to answer I had a fleeting thought that it was a call from friends who had recently visited us from England - they've got the time mixed up again I thought.
I'm sure I did a brief inventory of the family - something all mothers do: Lauren was upstairs sleeping after two weeks at an outdoor adventure camp, and Kelly and Nick were in Algonquin Park starting their third week of a first time "away" camp. I had just spent Saturday with them on Parent's Day and they were loving it. And, in any case, at six in the morning they would be fast asleep in their cabins or tents. All was well.
I had no sense of foreboding and was therefore totally unprepared as I answered the phone and a man's voice said, "Mrs. Aikins?"
"Yes," I answered.
"This is Constable Shultz of the Ontario Provincial Police."
Even now it is impossible to remember that 1997 morning without feeling my heart start to beat very fast. There could be only one reason why this man was calling - I had two children at camp in Ontario and as I dropped to my knees saying, "oh God, please God," I knew that this stranger had my world in his hands. His next words were devastating. "Do you have a son Nicholas?" he asked, and in the seconds that followed, during which all I could do was cry hysterically and say, "...Please no... Please..." I'm sure that I died.
However long the eternity was before Cst. Shultz said, "Your son is alive Mrs. Aikins, he is still alive," was a time I spent in another dimension, and then I was afraid to come out of it in case this stranger was tricking me, trying to soften the blow. I clung to the magic words "your son is alive," at the same time crying and saying, "No, you're just saying that. Please tell me it's true. Why are you calling me? Where is my son?"
He finally shocked me into silence with the words: "He is in the operating room of the Barry's Bay hospital. He has been severely mauled by a black bear."