#strongwomen #writer #author #entrepreneur #blog #blogger #canadian #alberta #kingdom #faith #metoo #sexualassault #predators
Lately, I’ve been feeling angrier and angrier. About all sorts of things. Being abandoned, dismissed and betrayed by people who claimed to care about me. Angry about the ways I’ve hurt others. Angry about the ways I’ve hurt and sabotaged myself. It plays in my mind, over and over, like a track on repeat that I can’t find the button to shut off. And honestly, sometimes I feel like I don’t want to shut it off. Because no one else is angry. No one else is acknowledging the hurt and pain I’ve been through, even though I feel like I try to be there for others when they need me. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I do deserve to be alone in my pain. Mostly I just don’t trust people anymore, though, because whenever I do open up, eventually they stop talking to me. Or they behave as if I should be over it by now.
So I write this for others who might know a little of what that’s like. Those who have been silenced and invalidated because what has happened to them or what they are going through is “not that bad.”
Because whoever is reading this is not someone who will or can help me. I’ve told my story to the few people I thought I could trust until I just ran out of words to say. I guess they just don’t know what to do with it. Especially since I never really knew what I needed. I hoped that the adults around me, the counsellors, bosses, my “friends,” would be able to help. But I’m hearing over and over that I should just move on because it’s “not that bad,” and I have a lot going for me. And oh, why didn’t I reach out to them before I ended up in the hospital from a drug overdose? Oh, that’s right, because they were only over the counter. Not street. No biggie. I’ll be fine.
I write to you, and to my little self, who knew from the age of six that something wasn’t right. That the fear and anxiety and toxic environment were not normal. I write for my preteen self, and the unwanted attention from fully grown men, that felt wrong, but what was she supposed to do? That twelve-year-old girl didn’t know that a grown-ass adult on a beach in Jamaica would try to pick her up while she wore a very cute bathing suit. Lots of skin. Oh, but it was only a mistake, and he backed off as soon as he knew how old she was. No biggie. Especially considering she had been called “sexy” by another man just a week before for wearing a fitted track suit.
I still have a picture from that trip. I may have been tall, but I definitely don’t think I looked like an adult.
I’ve always looked older than I am, though. So, maybe it makes sense then, that when I was sixteen at work, another man took a flyswatter and smacked me in the ass with it. Obviously, it would have been fine if I was a grown woman, and not a child working at a gas station. Did I have it coming from what I wore? Obviously, yes. In my dirty, bulky, oversized Co-op uniform. Very sexy. But wait. He knew exactly who I was, and how old I was. I was in his daughter’s class in elementary school. I believe third through fifth grade. I slept over at his house at least a few times.
So what salacious deed did I do to deserve that?
I was restocking supplies. Now, Your Honour, I can’t remember if it was the fridge next to the check-out counter, or the cupboard under the coffee machine. No, I promise I’m not lying, and I promise I’m not misremembering the rest of it. I promise this doesn’t make my entire testimony untrustworthy. It was a very small little corner back there, and I was doing a job I’d done dozens of times before, basically on autopilot, giving him a polite smile and going on my way. I was so far from even thinking about him that I don’t even remember whether he was close to me when I bent down to do my job. Only then there was that smacking sound, and the contact with my rear-end, and me being super confused. And no one said anything. My supervisor was there. And I think one other employee, a kid who I used to go to school with.
I don’t remember what he said exactly, but it was something along the lines of my ass just “being there.” And he went on about his day, bought whatever it was he had been there to buy, and went on his way. No biggie. Just minor sexual assault on a minor. But hey, sixteen is basically an adult, right? And adults get assaulted and harassed all the time.
I know, it’s weird, Your Honour, that somethings are clear and somethings are fuzzy. That’s the funny thing about trauma, I guess. I remember I went outside to wipe summer dust from the bottles of antifreeze kept in a display by the front door. I wiped antifreeze. I remember I was trying really, really hard not to cry. I wasn’t sure what to feel. It’s that feeling, you know, where something feels wrong, and unjust, but nobody else seems to notice, or really even care, so maybe what happened wasn’t actually a big deal. I was sixteen. A big girl. I wiped antifreeze until my supervisor came and got me. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but it basically went from “I’m fine” to “I’m quitting,” and before I know it I’m on the phone with the manager. And again, I’m not sure she really knew what to do, either. I don’t one-hundred-percent blame either of these middle-aged women for their responses. But the manager did acknowledge that what had happened to me was upsetting, and I think she was even almost crying a bit, but she asked me to just hold off on quitting for a bit while she sorted the situation. I was one of their best employees, after all. I think I remember that a storm rolled in about then. But maybe that’s an emotional retcon.
Anyway. The man was banned from the store, I guess. And I kept working, because I didn’t want to make a fuss. I kept being the good one. The hard working one. The happy, smiling one whom basically all the customers liked. Everyone moved on, and it was never mentioned again.
And today, eight years later, I’m still crying about it. That whole situation is a part of why I tried to kill myself with those pills. And I don’t say this for sympathy. I say it because there’s no such thing as “just” or “only” or “at least it wasn’t” when it comes to harassment, assault, and abuse of any kind. Some people might be able to heal quite well from their experiences, whether or not they are acknowledged or validated or supported by anyone else. I’m happy for them. The more healed people, the better. And I’m truly sorry for those who have gone through more than me. Bigger things than me. More frequent, more severe, more traumatic, more, more, more. It’s those big stories that make the news, and get the most sympathy and outrage. And those survivors deserve it. If they feel they can share their story like that, then that’s amazing.
But it’s us, the lonely onlies, that fall through the cracks. Our “only” stories are grey, misty, and way too easy to rationalize. What happens to us is just under the radar of what most people would care about, so there’s no point in reporting it, or trying to get any help, because there are other souls out there who have experienced so much more damage. But for us, it’s death by a thousand papercuts. Because we can’t speak up or get help. It’s a thousand little lewd comments, unwanted but innocent enough touches, men feeling that we owe them something. It’s gotten to the point where I can just tell how a conversation with a strange man I meet about town is going to go. They get this look in their eyes. They sidle up to you. Because I’m black, for me it always starts with asking where I’m from. Really from. And I smile politely and say I’m from Quebec, and try to evade the question, because that’s how I was taught. Or, maybe it’s being called an “Amazon” by a group of guys as I walk down the street.
It’s wondering why all these creeps pay so much attention to me when normal men my own age want nothing to do with me.
It’s a systematic erosion of self-confidence, and self-worth. It’s feeling fucking crazy, while knowing you’re not crazy, but maybe you are.
And all of that would be fine. Except for when I touched on this subject a couple years ago. I think I just posted #metoo. And a survivor I knew reached out to me and asked me what happened, why I had posted that, and I told them. I said, “I was sexually assaulted in high school when a man hit me in the rear with a flyswatter at work.” And they said that wasn’t sexual assault. End of conversation. Because this particular survivor has been through prolonged, unspeakable horrors, and I know they would have loved if what happened to me was the only thing that happened to them.
I believe that we should count our blessings. We should be grateful for the good things we have, because there are so many others who would kill to live the lives we live. But acknowledging the hurts we feel, and trying to work through them, is not being ungrateful.
So, to survivors of all kinds of trauma, whether it was one time, or a lifetime, or something small, or something huge, whether it was emotional, verbal, or physical: I’m sorry that happened to you. Whether you were raped, which is quantifiably worse than anything I’ve been through, or maybe you were never physically harmed, as I was that one time, I acknowledge that it must really suck. No matter what you’ve been through, I can imagine that you might play it over and over in your head, that small, unexpected things bring the memories back in full force. That you might feel ashamed, and confused, and scared. Maybe you’ll never be the same. Men still make me patently uncomfortable, even though I know that not all of them are like that. Maybe you feel like you cannot say no, because you were conditioned to be afraid, and to appease, and to cajole, and not rock the boat. Maybe you feel like you can only say no, because even the smallest yes could lead down an endless road of compromise. You might be angry because you didn’t get the justice you wanted, because even for survivors who have been brutally beaten, there’s always a way that it might not be “that bad” or that the conduct of the abuser can be explained or excused or dismissed. Wouldn’t want to ruin that person’s life.
Maybe you’re dealing with anxiety and depression because of it, if only in part. Maybe you go through dark periods of not even wanting to be alive, because the whole thing is just too much.
To my child. My baby boy, and all the baby boys and girls out there of any age. If anything happens to you that you’re not comfortable with, listen to yourself. Don’t try to make yourself feel more comfortable to accommodate someone else. And don’t try to tell yourself that “it’s no big deal,” or “at least it wasn’t…”
Please, survivors. Don’t minimize each other. Don’t try to compare battle scars and pass judgment on who gets to claim that they’ve been harassed, assaulted or abused. It’s not a competition. It’s a shitty club to be a part of, and guilty verdicts are not trophies that we are clamouring against each other for. I promise that acknowledging another person’s pain won’t make yours worse. Or minimize it. And yes, I can understand that someone who has been brutally raped might feel that someone who had one catcall could dilute and debase the movement if she gets the same claim to shame as you. And I’m not saying that every offense should result in instant life in prison. But why don’t we all work together? Why battle abuse so that we “only” have to deal with assault? Why diminish the experience of harassment survivors, or one-time survivors? Why not work to end all of it? I’m not going to be satisfied with a world where no young women get slapped with flyswatters in public, but they still get oggled while trying to give an important presentation at school.
I don’t want to live in a world that’s at least better than what I went through. I want to strive for the best possible outcome.
By other survivors claiming that certain experiences don’t qualify or aren’t as bad as what they went through, they are communicating to abusers that a little bit of harassment or assault or abuse is okay. As long as it’s just one time, it’s okay. And I know a lot of people who just don’t know where the lines are. They are honestly good, just confused, and this brow-beating is not helping them learn.
Because likely, a survivor won’t be a one-time survivor for long. We are steeped in a culture of sexual harassment. Rape culture isn’t just about brutal penetration while the victim screams no and tries as hard as they can to fight. It’s the underlying assumption that there are times when one person’s needs or proclivities outweigh the other. I’ve spoken to a survivor who wasn’t sure if they had been abused as a child because they were never forced. This small child, not even in their teens, was slowly groomed, one step at a time, and the abuser only proceeded with the child’s “permission.” So since the child said yes, that’s not abuse, right? And once the child found out that what had happened to them was a crime, they felt ashamed because they felt that they were the ones who had committed a crime by letting it happen. Bloody fucking hell.
That child, and the other survivor I shared my gas-station experience with (who was brutally raped as a child, as well), are not okay today, as adults. Even if I’m not close to them, I can see that.
That’s the culture we are perpetuating. It starts in childhood, a lot of the time. Some of us are told that rape is wrong, and that if someone wants to touch our no-no spots, we should tell an adult. But we aren’t warned, or taught about, or even validated about any of the rest of it. And a lot of the time, the harassment or abuse starts with family. Or those close to the family. And it completely skews the child’s perception of what is right and wrong, what is appropriate or not. Even, I as a tween, I didn’t understand that I shouldn’t try to make other children touch me in certain places. The world feels wrong, and upside down, and you’re not quite sure how to behave, and I believe that’s where a lot of abusers come from.
So none of this bullshit about some kinds of assault being less worthy of attention and help than others. All of it is wrong. All of it is bad. And I hope that no one’s child has to go through any of it. no matter how inconsequential it might seem.
Because it doesn’t stop. Like that seventy-year-old man at the gym I used to work at that wouldn’t stop asking me out, and I had no idea how to say no, so I just stalled until I couldn’t anymore, and went with him. Another man who came to my office and left in an angry, threatening huff when I didn’t return his advances. I couldn’t say no, I could only try to redirect him back to work, until he exploded at me and left, leaving me a threatening call and scared to leave in case he was waiting for me or tried to follow me home. Or at another job I had working in someone’s home, this elderly couple. Things went sour really fast there, and I was fired/quit over a really dumb argument, and then they felt bad, and kept inviting me for things and giving me gifts and wanting me to bring my son. As much as I felt so uncomfortable and scared, I went, and every time, the man would hold me and kiss me on the cheek in greeting or parting, even if I resisted, and I absolutely hated it, but since I’ve been taught my whole life that everything is my fault and if I don’t hug and kiss people I’m selfish and cold, I just smiled politely and tried to get away when I could. Because these people scared the shit out of me by how they had yelled at me, implied that I was a bad mother, and a shitty person in general, and I was scared of what would happen if I said no. I simply cannot tolerate men being angry with me. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work in people’s homes, and for the most part I didn’t think much of it, but I still can’t seem to say no. Because it would be ridiculous to make a fuss. Like that one time when I came to work to find that my employer’s wife was out of town and it would just be the two of us alone in the house. I went through all the things I wanted to say, like, “Maybe I shouldn’t come here when it’s just going to be the two of us.” But then I would be the unreasonable one. Even though this man was only a few years older than me, I still couldn’t say anything. So I did my work and got out of there as fast as I could, even though absolutely nothing happened. And eventually I got so anxious and depressed that my work product tanked and I got fired from there too.
IT DOESN’T STOP. I AM TRAPPED.
I could go on. Because maybe one of these stories will resonate with just one person. Like how I was in the hospital, sick and hooked up to machines, and one of the nurses asked where I was from, really, and then he asked for my phone number. Because he had a daughter my age, he said, and maybe we could hang out when I got out of the hospital. And once again, that cold feeling, that big smile, and this uncontrollable urge to just do what he says. Luckily, he hasn’t used my number. I didn’t even think to try to give a fake one. And I would never say anything because he was just so nice. Oh, and even just this week, at my favorite pond near my house, I was exploring and taking pictures, and this man wouldn’t stop yelling at me to come and take pictures of the ducks in front of him. I had my headphones in and everything. But he kept tracking me and yelling and waving until I was too embarrassed to ignore him anymore. Just so that I would be standing in front of him, I realized. I smiled politely and told him I would, and then as soon as his back was turned, I got the hell out of there. And the whole time I was scared that he might be following me, and wondering what he might do if he saw that I hadn’t listened to him. Oh, and that time that a man was screaming and swearing his head off at Sunnyside station a couple of months ago. This happens every once in a while. Weird people who just scream. And I decided to speak up. I decided to go over there, and tell him to stop, or that I would call the police. He screamed at me and called me a cunt and told me he was going to remember my face if I ever went back to that station, and he tried to get me to follow him into an alley. Transit security was there. They did nothing. I pressed the help button, and the man just left. I figured I would try one more thing, and call the police. I was so brave, having these big, burly men with guns in my house, and trying to tell what happened to me. I was pretty proud of myself. But I’m sure you can guess what they said.
It was my fault. I shouldn’t have approached him. If he had come up to me, that would be another thing. And there was nothing that they could do, because it’s perfectly legal to scream obscenities at the top of your lungs on the train platform. Since the man hadn’t been specific about what he wanted to do to me, there’s nothing they could do. If I wanted, I could try and talk to Calgary transit so they could ban him from the station. But that’s it. And I tried to tell a friend what happened, and they also agreed that I should have just left it alone. For people who don’t know what it’s like to be screamed at, sworn at, and verbally abused by men their entire childhood: it’s not something you just get over. It’s that chill, when you hear a slightly angry voice, and then you wonder what it’s going to turn into, and you prepare yourself to freeze, fight, or flee. And whatever option you choose, it will be the wrong one. Every. Single. Time.
All of these events. A lot of them “nice guys.” A lot of them volatile and violent. A lot of it happened in public, often with witnesses. None of it specifically illegal, except maybe, maybe the flyswatter thing. Nothing anyone can do.
I expect it will be like this for the rest of my life. I’m terrified to work anywhere. I sit, and I listen to racist, sexist rants, and watch abusive behaviour right in front of me, and I say nothing, because I’ve been taught that I have no voice, and that my experience is inconsequential. That I’m overdramatic or selfish for trying to put up boundaries. I have big conversations in my head, and sometimes I’m able to get it out, but other times I can’t even open my mouth to try. I’m trying now. I’m writing it down. I’m putting it where anyone could read it, if they wanted to.
Because I don’t know that I ever could do anything about that man from the gas station. One of my old neighbours. Someone who knew me at eight years old, long before I’d even started to come close to puberty. His name still brings tears to my eyes. Fucking Facebook suggested him to me as friend a couple of days ago. So, because everyone tried to minimize what happened to me, and focused on me not quitting my job, who knows what that man has gone on to do. Maybe nothing. Likely something, though. At least, he probably continued with some underhanded sexual assault that can easily, innocently be explained away. If he was willing to do it in public where there’s video cameras and witnesses and everything, in a small town where everyone knows him, I can only imagine what more he would be willing to do. And I can imagine that he didn’t suddenly become an abuser that day, either.
So. I’m sorry to any girls or others who have been hurt by this man since what happened to me. I know that the police would never listen to me, since it’s been so long, and it was just one time, and I probably did something to provoke him. Plus I’m an overdramatic, cold, selfish coward, as has been so eloquently pointed out to me over the years. I don’t know that I will ever publicly address Ron and what he did. I can imagine that there might be a girl right this moment as I write this, going through what I did, wondering how this man was able to get away with this for so long. Why people just let him keep on keeping on. Living on in that white bread Danish town of Spruce View, Alberta. No one would ever believe one of their two black citizens of eight years over one of the white guys who’s lived there most or all of his life.. I wonder why no one spoke up before it happened to me. Would there have been more of a fuss if it had happened to my gorgeous blonde coworker, who was a knock-out even in those uniforms? If it had been her, would that man have faced worse consequences? I know I should speak up, for your sake, love, and for the sake of anymore of us who come after you, on and on until God removes this man from the earth, or he does something bad enough to land him in jail. Maybe I should speak up for the barest chance that it might do some good, that he hasn’t been an innocent model citizen since that one time at the gas station. That he learned his lesson after being banned from the store for some amount of time. He probably learned, right?
You know what. I’m going to give it a try, just for shits and giggles. I’ll let you know the full story later of how it’s my fault for waiting eight years to call the police, and that because I had to walk near him and bend over to do my job, it was my fault, and the fact that I kept working there means I probably wasn’t that upset about it, and that the store already punished him, and that there’s nothing anyone can do. Stay tuned!