National Post

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Friday, July 02, 1999

A backyard away from tragedy

Peter Menzies
Calgary Herald

There is no guidebook for this, no 12-step program that offers instructions and assistance, no paper-backed summary of How to React When Your Neighbour's Children are Murdered.

There were no tips available Wednesday night to assist in explaining to a 14-year-old daughter that the children she used to babysit had been slain and, adding immeasurably to the horror, that their mother had been charged with their murder.

Craig and Diane Yano, along with their daughter Brittany, 5, and son Joshua, 3, lived directly behind me, our back gardens separated by, oh, about 20 metres of greenbelt. Our houses were built by the same builder and are identical in design but for the fact theirs is, relative to ours, a mirror image with a walk-out basement.

It is a good neighbourhood, which in 10 years has grown from raw suburbia into a maturing urbia, the trees and gardens gathering stature and thickening as, mysteriously, our hairlines thin. Our toddlers have become teens.

There are good schools nearby, churches are plentiful, soccer fields brim with little ones and big ones and, all in all, this is as good a neighbourhood as you can find for raising children.

Oh, there've been little scandals and big divorces. Friendships have been won and lost. But the only time I can recall the police being called was one year, early on, when a local constable dropped by to offer an amused, "what's all this then?" after a couple of the lads, brimming with post-midnight Stampede enthusiasm, climbed up on another neighbour's roof to tap at his bedroom window and ask his wife, who had trotted him off early, if it was OK for him to come out and play some more.

As for the Yanos, I was merely acquainted. My wife, who has been active with the Wings of Hope Rescue Mission, got to know Diane, though, when she was battling breast cancer. Diane had undergone stem cell transplant treatment, a rugged experience that takes its patients virtually to the brink of death, only so they might live. My wife attended Diane's tea parties. My daughter, as I have stated, babysat Joshua and Brittany. Craig and I nodded, grunted and occasionally, as men do, exchanged a wave, garden-to-garden like.

Last summer, when Diane was walking the children along the greenbelt, as she often did, I was lumbering about in the garden performing some beastly chore when Brittany demanded my attention in one of those Rockwellian encounters that tend to etch themselves deeper into memory only in times like these and in retrospect.

"What are you doing?" she said, her shining little face peeping through the wire-mesh fence.

"Well," I replied. "What's it look like I'm doing?"

"I dunno," she said. "What are you doing?"

"I'm weeding."

"Why?"

"Because weeds are bad."

"Why?"

"Because they make people walking behind my house think I'm a slob."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Why?"

Brittany is dead now. So is Joshua.

Their mother has been charged with their second-degree murder in a two-bedroom condo in Fairmont, B.C., and is being held in custody for a 30-day psychiatric assessment. Craig, I read, is being consoled by relatives and must be suffering a pain I can barely try to imagine, for when I do, my throat thickens and tears begin to well in my eyes so that I must swiftly think of something, anything, else. God help them all.

I am grateful only that Brittany and Joshua did not die in their home and that is selfish, for I am not sure I could sit on my deck and look upon their home again were that the case.

Adding to the unease is the extent to which everything still appears so very ordinary, so that there is nothing to help define the real from the surreal. Both, today, are simultaneous. A terrible horror, an unimaginable darkness, has fallen upon our neighbourhood, our world. If G.K. Chesterton was right, and only what is local is real, then local reality has this week become far too local, far too real, far too suddenly.

Yet, there have been no Steven Spielberg clouds rolling across the sunset, no horsemen have appeared in the sky. The birds still sing. The dogs still bark. People, pooper-scoopers in hand, still walk up and down the greenbelt with bowser. They look as ridiculous as ever.

Wednesday night, knowing not what else to do as my daughter sat out on the deck and let the rain mix with her tears in this, her summer of lost innocence, I took my children to see Star Wars, hoping it would be a helpful distraction.

When we came home, we talked, knowing all the while that there is nothing that can be said to resolve this level of bewilderment. My son and his friends played road hockey in the cul-de-sac. I fell asleep listening to their laughter.

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