I recently had the chance to meet up with Kate Vermette in Banff. Her book, The Break has been receiving award nominations and great press, and I am so happy for her. It’s very cool to see how short stories she started so long ago became a novel with a Greek chorus of narrators.
Kate has always been able to see things from an elevated point of view, and a conversation we had about trauma has really stuck with me over the past few weeks.
We spoke about Reconciliation and this idea of “getting over it.” We spoke of trauma we’ve both suffered personally, and how often we’ve heard “get over it.”
It’s not my intent now to discuss our Indigenous Peoples’ timeline or process in healing, and I am not here to share Kate’s oricess. But I can tell you that “getting over it” is not as simple as people think.
There has been so much coverage on sexual assault, and pussy-grabbing, and general gaslighting these past few weeks that I feel like I’m drowning in the same black sludge that was dumped on me last year.
The one thing I have really struggled with, is that it happened more than once. What kind of idiot puts herself in that position more than once?
But reading the stories on Twitter and Facebook made me realize that nearly every woman has a story of unsolicited contact, and most women have more than one.
It’s taken over a year of work to even get me to say out loud that no matter what, it wasn’t my fault. Either time. Any of the times.
I am working on a novel with sexualized violence at its core. I am working on three short stories where sexualized violence snuck its way in. And I am working, very slowly, on a series of essays that detail exactly what I went through over the past two years.
Do I want to get over it? Of course. It’s like running with a weight belt on. It’s a shadow on the landscape. It’s a wraith in the corner of my eye.
But even if there were no media repeating the racist, sexist, words I heard so often. (And the blame – “I didn’t get the job cause the women are taking the jobs. The white man is under attack!”). Even if my soul-destroying meeting with his girlfriend didn’t haunt me. (“What were the circumstances where he hit you?”) Even if I weren’t writing about the hitting, the holding down, the silencing, the blocking I did and phone numbers and emails I changed, the gaslighting, the racism and the utter faith I had that I could make a difference – even then, I don’t think I could let go of what happened.
In setting up my most recent essay, I finally went back and looked at the dates of the two “events.” February 14, 1987 was a Saturday. February 12, 2015 was a Thursday. The calendars are identical.
I have not celebrated Valentines’ Day since that first time. My husband is more than willing to forego that Hallmark holiday.
But this last time was trickier. Convention was difficult. I had just posted my Gomeshi post which resulted in a word-salad filled email of threats about what would happen if I didn’t take it down. I was facing my third breast scan – increasingly invasive – for some questionable results. On my way to the appointment, I was regaled at once by a live phone call from his girlfriend at the exact same time as fielding the buzzes nasty, abusive texts from him, right up until I turned my phone off and locked it in my cubby before my scan.
Every step on the walk down the hall from the change room to the waiting room was freighted. There was no hope for an apology. There was no hope for a friendship. There was no hope that I had made any difference at all. I had tried everything. And failed.
When I came out, I blocked everything and everyone to do with him.
And began to heal.
I can tell you all I accomplished after 1987, but it would take so long. I persevered.
Post 2015, I have been blessed. I’ve won awards, written stories and essays that have shortlisted in contests. I have helped put on the production of Annie. I have run writing clubs. I have gone full time and changed schools, committing myself to teaching. I’ve moved houses. I have mentored writing students, and edited three med school applications for applicants who are worthy and kind, and brilliantly doing the work it takes to succeed. I joined the WGA board. I have taught classes. I have helped work on a new teen writer class with amazing women. I tutor. I started yoga. I write. I write. I write.
I’ve made many new friends, though I am more careful with who I am open with.
I’ve learned to play piano – even a piece in the grade 6 syllabus. I’ve started guitar lessons. I’ve kicked ass in piano theory and am aiming to teach it at some point.
I do more now than ever, but I do it with the intention of being absolutely present. No one will ever use me like that again. No one will play me like that again. And you know, there are very, very few people in this world that would even consider it.
I am not over 1987. I am not over 2015. They are the trauma rocks I push up hill. They are trauma weights that sometimes hang heavy like overcoats, and sometimes a little lighter like sweaters. I did all this, while carrying the weight of what happened. But I still did it. So don’t for a second think I’ve been sitting here bemoaning this terrible event. I am angry as hell about it, for many reasons. It is a part of every day. I can never set it down. So I carry it but it hasn’t stopped me yet.
I look forward to the end of this election. It makes me angry. It calls to mind how I felt throughout this “friendship” and it makes me furious. It’s hard to set down that weight when the words never stop.
There will still be daily reminders of misogyny and racism, but not to the level that we’re seeing now. I don’t feel so alone, much as connecting with the Gomeshi survivors made me feel less alone.
*The song from whence the title came.