In Loving Memory (and living with regret)

This week I lost two people who were hugely important people in my past. I’d had a falling out with each of them a long time ago, eventually reconnected with each of them in the early days of Facebook, and then drifted apart from each of them again. They are both people who reached out to me just a few months ago asking to get together, and they are both people whose messages I ignored because it didn’t feel like ‘the right time’ to have them back in my life.

This is the week that I learned how brutally life will teach us that we may run out of time for second chances.

Katherine Ulrichsen

IMG_20180412_173305__01My childhood best friend, born only two days after me, Katherine and I had known each other from the early age of 1.5 years. We made mud shakes together, caught bees together, and went to my first concert together (George Michael). We were the best of friends right up until the middle of high school when boys (a boy) came between us. Of course, what a cliche.

On Friday morning, Katherine didn’t wake up from her sleep. We don’t know how she died, but hopefully an autopsy will reveal the cause. Katherine had reached out to me just before I was heading to BC in the Fall. I could see on Facebook that Katherine battled physical and emotional pain daily, and I just didn’t want to have to add that to all of the things I was already dealing with myself, so I didn’t reply. I kept thinking that I would reach out to her and make sure I saw her before I moved out of the province – that would have been within the next couple of months. We hadn’t seen each other since age 18; after more than 20 years apart, it never occurred to me we didn’t have a mere couple of months more.

The outpouring of love in response to Katherine’s passing spoke of a woman who was kind-hearted, giving, and caring toward everyone. I wish I had known the adult version of my childhood friend. I wish I had made the time to see her. I just didn’t know that was going to be my only chance.

Luke Neville

Four days after learning of Katherine’s death, I saw a Facebook post that Luke was missing. It was dated October 2017, being reposted on the 6 month anniversary of his disappearance. I didn’t know.

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Luke & Linda, sometime in our twenties

Luke & Linda – we were a complicated pair since our twenties. We initially bonded over a love of the same type of music. He lived in Ottawa, he would come and visit me in Toronto and I would take my son (just 4 years old at the time) to visit “Fireman Luke” in Ottawa. Most of the time, our romantic timing was terrible but one magical weekend, it wasn’t. We shared an amazing weekend camping and hiking in cottage country but as soon as we were back, reality kicked in and the complications kicked up again.

In my thirties we reconnected – he was now living in BC, I had to go to BC for work so we met up for a weekend. He took me to my first firing range so that I could check off ‘shoot a gun’ on my bucket list. Luke & Linda were doing great… until we weren’t. We had a huge blow up, it ended terribly, and I couldn’t forgive him for the things he said and did. Every few years after that he would send me a note to see if I was ready to reconcile but I could never figure out what to say in response, so I never replied.

Last August he was back in Ontario for a week and he tried again, and said that he would keep trying every few years. He ended his note with “Ok, well, I guess I said what I had to say and I’ll return to my hole for a few more years… ummm… you look awesome BTW… ok, well, have a great couple of years or so… Let me know if you’re in B.C. and want to fight… Too soon?… probably… k, bye…”.

Just two months later, I did go to BC, and I was in a town just a couple of hours from his small, remote town. I didn’t tell him I was going to be there, because I still wasn’t ready yet and I thought we’d have lots of time for that ‘right moment’ to come when we would be able to patch things up.

That day in October, when I was in that town close to his town, is the last day he was seen alive.

That day, when I was in that town close to his town, it’s believed that he was murdered by thugs from a local drug house. His body has never been found.

The day after that day, a post went up on Facebook that he was missing, but I never saw it because I was travelling through BC busily looking for a new home and excitedly planning to apply for grad school, so I wasn’t checking social media. I had no idea that just a few hours away there was now a search party combing the area, looking for the other half of Luke & Linda.

I wonder if I had reached out and asked him to meet me on that trip in BC, if it might have saved his life. Luke would have dropped everything to come and see me, and if he’d done that then maybe he wouldn’t have been where he was when they got him. I just can’t reconcile that it happened when – for the first and only time in my life – I was so close that I could have actually possibly disrupted that course of events. I know it’s impossible thinking, it’s just part of the grief process I suppose. But when it comes to living with regret, this is a big one.

Luke and RobertLuke had a great laugh. He would get onto rants about all sorts of things, and I loved how when he ranted, he would elongate adjective vowels. Something wasn’t just “super annoying”, it was “sooooooooper annoying” haha. I do that too; I’m pretty sure I picked it up from him. He also didn’t have much of a filter, which meant that he was brazenly open about his desires for us to have a relationship, and equally brazenly open about behaviours of mine that he found problematic. You always knew where you stood with Luke. And he sure did love kids; he loved my kid.

 

I’m trying hard to understand what the universe is trying to teach me this week. I had been thinking that I was going to move out of Ontario without giving many people a heads up. I’m reconsidering that now. I think I need to make sure that I have lovingly closed my relationships here before I leave, especially those that have ended abruptly and/or without explanation, because I may never get a chance to do that and I need to make sure that people know I love them and that they matter(ed) to me.

I knew that Luke loved me, but I don’t think he knew that I loved him. Sometimes I didn’t like him, but a part of me always loved him, and it feels to me like the greatest tragedy that he died not knowing that. I just didn’t know I would run out of time to let him know.

say it

Change is Hard

I have been feeling guilty about not writing a Year in Review post for 2017, because I like the idea of this blog being my memory-keeper of life and feel that I’ve somehow short-changed myself by not following through. However, here we are in February, and I’m feeling compelled to write about the unfolding of what was one of the most significant events of 2017, which is my concrete decision to move to British Columbia in 2018.

A few weeks ago, on a bus ride into the city to meet a friend for dinner, I spontaneously decided to reach out to realtors to start gathering information about selling my home this Spring. Suddenly, here I am at the beginning of February with my house completely in disarray being readied for listing in the next couple of weeks, and a photo on my phone, sent to me by my friend, of my house in the local paper being advertised as “Coming Soon!”

It’s all happening so fast. I’m freaking out.

The other major event of 2017 is that I decided to apply to graduate school in the hopes of getting my Masters Degree and ultimate PhD in social psychology research. I busted my ass to study for the GRE which I wrote in November, I further busted my ass to get applications written and submitted by December 1, and now there is nothing left to do with that but wait until I hear back from schools in March.

That means that right now I’m listing my house for sale, before I actually know if I’m moving to BC to go to school, or if I’m moving to BC to semi-retire in a small town by the ocean. I don’t know when to quit my job, I don’t know when I’ll be leaving for BC or where I’ll be living or even whether I’m moving to a house or a student basement apartment. I have no idea what lays ahead of me and yet every day right now, in this life in Ontario, I am being propelled to let go of everything that has provided me comfort, security, and stability over the last 16 years.

Everything familiar is changing.

My house is now an attractive and perfectly average shade of taupe-grey. The beautiful French doors that were a deep shade of wood stain are now painted a perfectly acceptable white. And the floor-to-ceiling wood bookcases that are full of character, originally installed by my father and later stained dark walnut by me, are now taken down and waiting for LetGo pickup because without them the space looks just a little bit larger which is more marketable. Suddenly everyone feels entitled to share their opinion about every little thing in my house. As I was told by a realtor, “your house isn’t your home anymore, now it’s a product to be sold.”

I’m so sad.

Without having a clear vision of what to look forward to – student life in psychology research, or semi-retirement by the ocean – I don’t know what to hang on to as I let go of my current life. I am quickly becoming displaced in my own life, and it’s all been of my own choosing, but it’s happening so quickly that I’m often gasping for air, scrambling to feel ground beneath my feet.

It’s a pithy saying, but these days I feel it in every atom of my body. I feel it every time I wake in a panic at 2am desperately thinking I need to cancel all of these plans and get comfortable with feeling settled in Ontario. I feel it everytime I’m on the cusp of some great unforgettable adventure that terrifies me to my core (like this one): change is hard. Change is so hard, and I desperately don’t like it, but I’ve also come to realize I can’t live without it.

Wherever you go, there you are

For the last week, I’ve been travelling through what I hope will be my future home province someday. I arrived with great hope and expectation about what I might discover, and nervousness that I wouldn’t discover anything at all. I was so thrilled to have an epiphany early on about what to do with my career that I started to think I could just relax on this trip, assuming everything was going to go well and life would all start to sort itself out into a state of clarity.

I spent 3 nights in a small town, renting a room in the home of a man the same age as me. We ended up spending a lot of time together as he showed me around town, took me on hikes and we stayed up late into the night sharing life stories. He talked about wanting to take me on his motorcycle someday, wanting to show me so many more things in the future, and about how his mother would be surprised to learn he’s dating again. By the time I was leaving, we were holding hands in the car and kissing goodbye. I didn’t think I was personally investing too much, it just felt nice to be connecting with someone in that way after what has felt like a long time of being single.

Of course now, two nights later, I just feel profound loss. In the light of day, I see how he is too much like every emotionally unavailable, narcissistic guy I’ve been involved with in the past. I see how I let myself get caught up in a ‘relationship’ for no reason other than it felt nice not to be alone. I see that everything he said and did was self-serving and insincere.

I thought I had left these old patterns behind and yet here they are, following me halfway across the country reminding me that wherever I go, there I’ll be. There I’ll be with all my history, all my old wounds that are still healing, all my vulnerability and weakness and fear. Just when I think I’ve left them all behind, there they are.

Man, what a crappy discovery to have on vacation.

Belonging

When I was in Europe in April, I fell into a personal crisis.

It began at my work retreat in Angers, France. We were coached on how to walk a labyrinth – take a quiet moment before entering, clear your thoughts, and let your truths reveal themselves to you as you walk slowly through the path. With each step, I wept – sobbed – as the words “I don’t belong” kept coming up, over and over again. I didn’t know what they meant or why they were so adamant about being heard, but I do know that it was the beginning of an unprecedented physical stress response that resulted in me being sick, in pain and very medicated for the remainder of the trip. It was undeniable that something really big and important was trying to make itself known to me.

Since that time, I’ve been struggling to understand what belonging means to me, and why it feels like something I urgently need to address. I know that it has something to do with my work – I’ve come to accept that I absolutely do not belong in my workplace, and that I need to make a move. I know that it also has something to do with where I live.

So, after an incredibly difficult several months, I’m now on a two-week trip in British Columbia checking out towns, looking for a new place I’ll be able to someday call home. My hope for this trip was to get some kind of hint about what my next steps should be; some kind of clarity about something, anything, as long as it would bring me a step ahead of where I’d been before the trip.

And then today, on day two of my trip, I had an epiphany on the drive from Chilliwack to Maple Ridge, a realization about what I need to do next in my career. It was such a deep and honest realization it literally brought me to tears, as I think it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time but subconsciously always felt was out of reach.

And today, on day two of my trip, after spending the morning driving through neighbourhoods looking at real estate listings, and after spending the afternoon hiking in Golden Ears Provincial Park, I was suddenly overcome in the most peaceful and calmest of ways with the unexpected gentle whisper of these precious words: “I belong.” They felt like warm sunshine in my heart.

I’m not sure yet how this will all unfold, but today I have great hope and joy that I am heading in the right direction.

bc me golden ears

Mark

As I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn’t have been more surprised to see you. How long has it been – a year? two years? I still feel like I may have imagined it, the impossibility of the timing something I can’t seem to wrap my mind around.

I hadn’t thought of you in ages until earlier today, when Facebook suggested we might want to be friends. I thought fondly back to the brief time that we dated; to that ridiculous first date when I ended up weirdly asking you if you had to lose two limbs, which two limbs would you give up, and how amazed I was that you not only went with the conversation in good fun, but still wanted to go out again after that. Mostly I thought back to the incredible sexual chemistry we had; it had been a long time since I’d felt that charged by another person. In all honesty, it hasn’t happened with anyone since.

I tried to remember why I decided it wouldn’t – couldn’t – work with you. I remembered the way you looked at me sideways through your glasses, your eyes getting almost creepily wide, and how annoying I found that to be. I sighed at how petty that seems, now. But then I remembered how conversation so often needed to revolve around you and I thought, well, that’s not petty. That’s not petty at all.

Still, I’d clicked on your profile picture this morning and scrolled through your feed to see what you’d been up to since we’d last seen each other. (Who’s the creepy one now…?) I saw your nature photography, your running and cycling accomplishments, your kayaking adventure, your easy banter with friends, and I sighed again. You are in so many ways such a terrific guy. You were so close to being someone I could’ve loved.

I decided to go to Starbucks this afternoon to read, but the dog demanded a walk before I left. I amusingly thought to myself, ‘What if these few minutes make the difference between me meeting some great guy at Starbucks, or us just missing each other?’ The thought flitted through my mind before it rushed off, replaced by an army of other thoughts demanding my attention. I brought the dog home and decided as long as I had my shoes on, I may as well walk to get the mail. Another few minutes passed.

And then I finally made it to Starbucks and there you were, passing right outside my window, leaving the cafe just as my car was pulling in. You looked in my direction but past me, while I stared at you in disbelief. A few minutes earlier and we would have crossed paths in the store – you would have had to walk by me waiting in line to order as you made your way out. But now you just passed by, looking preoccupied.

When time unfroze I realized you were with another woman – brunette, like me. You looked uncomfortable, neither of you were smiling. Another first date, I guessed. It didn’t look like there had been much of a connection.

I wonder what you would have done or said if we had bumped into each other inside. I wonder if we would have had coffee, after your coffee date, and what would have come of it. I wonder if we would have decided to extend it beyond coffee. It felt like a fleeting Hollywood moment, full of possibility and ‘almost-was’, even as I remembered all the valid reasons why it didn’t and couldn’t work between us.

I’m not sure why today you unexpectedly came into my mind, and then into my view, but it made me smile, remembering the time we had together and knowing you’re still out there, not that far away as it turns out. You unknowingly brought a little adventure into my day, and inadvertently a little hope that maybe someday I’ll meet someone again who will rekindle that crazy excitement I’d briefly felt with you.

I guess all I’m trying to say is… it was good to see you again, Mark.

Embarking on a European Adventure

When I joined the social service agency I currently work for, I never could have imagined just a couple of short years later I would be preparing to head to Europe on what they call a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person, so I struggle a bit with calling it a pilgrimage –  I prefer to think of it as connecting to the roots of the agency, roots that lie at least as much in feminism as they do in Catholicism.

Motherhouse1-1024x768Tomorrow I leave for 3 weeks, first spending 11 days in France learning about the history of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the story of the fiery young woman in the 1800s who started it all. I’ll meet people from across the world who are all part of the global network of Good Shepherd agencies working to help vulnerable people in their own ways. I’m hoping for a lot of cool history, personal connection and reflection, and minimal God talk (fingers crossed). As an introvert, I’m a bit nervous about all the ‘people time’ on top of the exhaustion of jetlag, but I’m counting on my ipod and running shoes (and wine!) to help me get through it.

battloAfter France, I head off on a whirlwind solo adventure through Spain, Andorra, and Portugal. I’m excited to check off three new countries on my bucket list, marvel at Gaudi’s Seuss-meets-Tim-Burton architecture, hike in the Pyrenees, and sip port in Porto. I can’t wait to taste real European pastries again – it has been too long! – and have fresh baguettes and cheese in France (apparently a daily menu offering where we’re staying).

My ipod has been updated to include new-to-IMG_0136me music by Morrissey and Mindless Self Indulgence which are sure to provide an interesting soundtrack to my travels. I carry with me a new travel angel to keep me safe in light of the sporadic attacks in Europe, letters from coworkers to be opened when I need a hug from home, and a promise to send awkward photos taken with handsome locals at the special request of one of my staff. (I love how we all embrace and celebrate each others’ weirdness!)

Today, as always before leaving on a trip, I’m so anxious I have to keep reminding myself to breathe. But I think this trip is going to be full of awesome, potentially life-shifting moments that I will do my best to document on the go. I invite you to join me on my European adventure. Allons-y!

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2016: Year in Review

To be honest, I feel a bit shell shocked by this year. Nevertheless, growth and progress come in many forms and now this year too has passed so, without further ado, here are my highlights (or perhaps more aptly named, key themes) of 2016:

1) Exploring the West: In the summer I took a 2-week solo trip to the Western US and Canada, starting with a 10k race in Oregon, moving on to rainforest hikes and ocean beach walks in Washington, mountain hiking in British Columbia, and horseback riding in the Alberta Rockies. Mid-trip I took a break in Nelson BC, staying with a friend for a few days, cementing what is becoming a soulful lifelong friendship. On this trip I discovered my strength and visceral need for connection with body and nature. Coming back from this trip, I started biking to work instead of driving and making day trips to Algonquin Park on long weekends for hiking with a view. I was embarking on an important and much-needed lifestyle shift.

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2) Exploring Love: After two years of purposeful singledom, I started dating again in the Spring, learning a little bit more about myself from each brief relationship. From a nice guy with no sexual chemistry, to an annoying guy with abundant sexual chemistry, to a wealthy guy with no self-reflection, to an unconventional guy with little empathy, I am gradually learning more about what I need, and refining and solidifying my dealbreakers. Whether or not I’ll ever meet a guy who will someday become my best friend is anyone’s guess, but I think there’s value and personal growth in the search.

img_20140419_1421443) Exploring Loss: On December 1, a dear friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 63. I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, I had no idea how to even begin to process that she’s no longer in this world. I don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around it yet. And then on December 25, my childhood idol whose music I’d hung on to through my worst years of loneliness growing up, passed away suddenly at age 53. I’m surprised at how complicated my grief over George Michael’s passing has been. These two sudden losses at vastly different levels and degrees of proximity to my life have left me feeling very melancholic, and focused on the importance of living fully and immediately rather than perfectly.

img_20160810_1131544) Exploring Change: On my Western adventure, I came to realize that I experience myself and the world differently when I’m around mountains. In the mountains I feel like there is room for me in the world, and I feel like I can breathe in a way that eludes me in this flat congested landscape that I currently call home. I realized that I have unconsciously been travelling to mountains every chance I’ve gotten over the last few years since I started travelling alone, and I think I’m starting to understand why. I’ve now begun to lay the groundwork to make a big move in my life within the next couple of years which feels a bit scary but also exciting and very life-living.

So, those are the biggest themes/highlights of 2016. The only thing left to do now is choose the song of the year!

Song of the Year: 2016

It’s hard to choose this year’s song since 2016 has been so emotionally dichotomous for me. At various points I would have thought my selection would be one of my most-played Awolnation songs of the year – either “MF” or “Windows” – but I’ve decided it’s going to be an old Cage the Elephant song from 2013 that I just discovered a few months ago. As much as I love their newer release “Trouble”, this older song “Telescope” really represents my state of mind this year, ending with the important reminder: Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time worth spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it.

With that, I thank you for reading and wish you a happy, healthy 2017 full of love, peace and joy.

RIP George Michael

I george-michael-faithwas in that second wave of young girls who joined George’s fandom when he released Faith (as opposed to the first wave of girls who caught on during the Wham! years). I was an insecure, lonely girl whose family never talked about sex or feelings or anything at all for that matter. His overt sexuality was exciting and intriguing for me as I was still trying to understand what the heck sex actually was. And his deep sadness and longing for belonging resonated with me, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that at the time.

George Michael provided the soundtrack and the backdrop for a good 10 years of my life. I was obsessed with owning every piece of music he’d ever released, as I hwham-in-chinaunted down 45″ singles for their B-side instrumental versions, relentlessly called in to obscure radio shows requesting elusive instrumental versions I hadn’t been able to hunt down anywhere, and special ordered t-shirts and the Wham! in China video on VHS that my mother had to drive to a far-away mall to pick up for me. I scoured magazines for even the tiniest mentions of George to see what he was up to and what he looked like “in real life.” In the days before the internet, it took real effort and persistence to be a hardcore fan. It was a labour of love.

My high school lockers were full of George Michael photos, my room was plastered in George posters, my binder was a George Michael binder. I wore a gold cross earring my girlfriends gave me for my birthday one year. When I got punished at home, my mother took away all my George Michael stuff – posters, cassettes, magazines, everything – and hid it, saying I’d have to earn it back one piece at a time. In that moment, I despised her with such rage that I suddenly understood how wars were started. I found where she had stashed everything and secretly made copies of all the tapes and smuggled out posters. Nothing was going to stand between me and my George Michael!

George Michael was my first concert ever, and when I heard that he’d named Elton John and Billy Joel as musical influences, I started listening to them too. He shaped my musical taste for years to come.

Sometime after Listen Without Prejudice, I lost track of George Michael. I had become a mother at age 18, life had gotten busy and he hadn’t released any new music for a while. When he finally did release a new CD, the music seemed really.. old? boring? I was a busy, energetic twenty-something, I couldn’t relate to his style at all anymore. And at some point I heard something about a lewd act. I didn’t really know what had happened but felt vaguely embarrassed as people smugly mocked my former fandom. Every June 25 I had a fleeting remembrance that it was his birthday, but otherwise he gradually faded out of my life.

And now he’s gone and I can’t seem to stop trying to fill ingeorge-and-anselmo the gap of everything I missed about his life over the last twenty years. I didn’t know his father had been so critical of him. I didn’t know he had been so conflicted about his sexuality and that his ‘lewd act’ had ultimately resulted in his coming out. I didn’t know he had fallen in love with a man who heartbreakingly ended up dying just a couple of years later. I didn’t know he’d fallen into deep depression after his mother died. I didn’t know he’d almost died of pneumonia a few years ago.

I didn’t know he was an addict. I imagine he couldn’t have been easy to live with, especially when you add his perfectionism on top of it. I also didn’t know he was such a generous humanitarian, anonymously donating to multiple charities and anonymously volunteering at a homeless shelter.

I’m learning all this about him and appreciating what a complex individual he was, full of struggle and hope and love. His messiness and imperfection are resonating deeply for me.

george-michael-olderI’m taking the time to discover his post-Listen Without Prejudice music and now that I’m older and more mellow, it doesn’t feel boring to me anymore. It’s beautiful in its pain. Life is hard, I feel that in his music. (The first time I heard his version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” a couple of days ago – posted below – it literally brought me to tears.) Maybe there is a reason for his music coming into my life again at this point,  maybe I wouldn’t have been ready for it sooner.

I feel a sense of loss and sadness that I wasn’t there for the whole ride, but I’m so incredibly grateful for everything George Michael has been and is going to be for me in my life. Despite his flaws and vices, he did good in the world and brought love to those around him, and I feel a weird sort of pride to have been his fan. The world – my world – doesn’t feel the same without him.

Rest in peace, George.

Trump and Crickets: The end of a relationship

“Bummer about Trump, eh!”

Those words marked the beginning of the end of my latest relationship.

I was still in shock, reeling from the news I’d woken up to at 4:45am – the news that overnight, the world had changed in a way that I naively never saw coming. I was still grasping to understand how this could have happened and what it meant to me, to vulnerable people in America, and to the world. I didn’t know how to make sense of it, I couldn’t find the words, but I knew “bummer” was not one of them.

Prior to that day, I had already been starting to struggle with my partner’s lack of awareness of his privilege, his lack of deep engagement in meaningful discussions, and his seemingly superficial, self-interested approach to life.

Just a few days earlier, in response to me sharing that I’m feeling a strong and urgent pull to figure out bigger ways that I can make positive change in the world, his response was: “Not everyone can be Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.” I countered that, in fact, there are lots of people – seemingly ordinary people – who make big and small important change in the world all the time, and gave him the example of the two college change-makers in the documentary The Hunting Ground, who found a way to force colleges to deal with sexual assaults on campus. But I knew it was a bad sign that instead of lifting me up, his immediate response was to try to pull me down ‘to reality.’

I knew it was a bad sign a few weeks earlier that, when he was telling me about his first volunteering shift playing squash with underprivileged youth, his story about what made it so great was all about what a great guy he was and how much the youth talked about how great he was, but I didn’t recall him talking about how great any of the youth were.

That conversation came in the middle of a volunteering shift we did together, sorting shoes that were being sent to Haiti as part of a microloan initiative to help families build self-sustaining businesses. When I’d asked him at the end of the shift what he’d thought of it, he replied he’d been hoping we’d only have had to be there for an hour or two so we could have just gone for coffee and hung out, but it was “fine”. I couldn’t help picking up on the tone of annoyance that he was trying to hide.

And it was definitely a bad sign when he chose to dress up as Trump for Halloween, telling me “it was fun to be politically incorrect for a bit. I told some gals that I’d spank them but they were only a ‘4’ so not worth it.”

And so the day came when I learned that Trump was president-elect, and I received an email from this guy talking about how much he had killed it in his squash game the night before, how he was going to a fancy restaurant with corporate finance brokers that night, and then ended with that throwaway line, “Oh, and bummer about Trump eh!”

I replied that bummer was an understatement and explained how and why I was struggling, and that I was just trying to surround myself with like-minded people to process and work through it. I distanced myself from him for the day.

The next night when he came over, I had decided that I wouldn’t try to gloss over my feelings or pretend everything was fine just to make things more comfortable for him. Instead, I told him I was still not ok. I explained how that election decision made me feel disillusioned with society, and how I instantly felt less safe in the world as a woman. I told him about how heartbroken and hopeless I felt that the bad guy won, people made the bad guy win.

While I talked, he ‘listened’, periodically sticking his nose deep into his wine glass and breathing in deeply to once again admire just how fantastic the red wine he’d brought was.

He dismissively made comments like, “well we just have to be glad we live in Canada” and “I just don’t stress about it because there’s nothing I can do about it”. I felt deflated. His commitment to complacency was fierce.

He commented about how I’m always thinking and grinned in a self-pleased way as he said, “In my head, there’s nothing, it’s just crickets.”

Crickets.

My son said to me yesterday that I have a “big mind”. He said it with a tone of admiration and respect, which was a contrast to that almost condescending remark my so-called partner had made a couple of days earlier.

It all became crystal clear. I ended the relationship.

Because in the world I want to live in, people will choose to actively work toward creating a society that is safe for all, whether it impacts them directly or not. People actively engage in critical thinking to challenge dominant beliefs and systems that are not only holding us back as a society but, in many cases, damaging us and the world we live in. Because for me, ultimately, complacency and ignorance are not sexy and frankly are no longer acceptable. And neither are crickets.

ghandi

Our Broken System Needs To Be Fixed: A response to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict

For a long time now I have been increasingly frustrated and enraged by the discourse that’s happening around sexual assault, consent, violence against women. As a conflict-avoider, I have been afraid to step into the conversational battlefield. As a short-fused person, I have had to remove myself even as a spectator to avoid jumping into a battle I wouldn’t feel equipped to handle. But honestly, I don’t know how to do this anymore. I don’t know how to come to terms with the sheer ignorance and gleeful hatred with which some people are responding to the Jian Ghomeshi verdict that was released yesterday.

I don’t know that any of us could have been surprised by that verdict. If you followed the trial even loosely it was clear that the judge was going to have rule in Ghomeshi’s favour. I think that makes us have to ask the question – what is wrong with this system in which the judicially correct result is to find innocent a man who freely admits to choking women and punching them in the head?

Yes, we have to talk about what consent really means. That’s a huge problem, partly because consent usually comes down to a he-said/she-said scenario — sorry for the hetero norming, I fully acknowledge this can happen in any relationship dynamic — and in a patriarchal society which defaults to giving men power and voice, the ‘he-said’ part of that equation always holds more weight. So let’s be clear…

Consent does not mean ‘you said yes to going out with me so now I get to do whatever I want to your body’. Consent does not mean ‘you sent me a bikini photo later so you were obviously ok with what I did to you before’. Consent means that in the moment, in every moment, both parties are each individually fully capable of making the decision to engage in a behaviour, are freely choosing to do so, and are fully capable of withdrawing/ending that interaction without fear of personal harm/retribution. When you’re on a fun date with a guy and he suddenly and unexpectedly assaults you, that’s not consent.

But this case in particular wasn’t really about consent since it’s pretty clear the women couldn’t have consented to those assaults, so it became all about the women’s behaviour after the assaults occurred. So, let’s set aside consent for a moment, because we really need to talk about the system itself.

We have a system that requires traumatized people to behave in untraumatized ways in order to be believed. A system that doesn’t take any responsibility for understanding what ‘normal’ behaviour is following an assault, or years of abuse, but has full power to rule on that behaviour. A system that seems to require victims to prove that they didn’t somehow invite the assault rather than focusing on the fact that an assault occurred.

We have a system that requires victims to find strength in the exact areas they’ve been wounded – confidence, clarity, consistency – none of which are compatible with the symptoms of trauma in people who have experienced abuse. It would be like asking someone with a broken leg to prove it’s broken by jumping on it over and over again – they just can’t do it, but that doesn’t mean the leg’s not broken. A woman traumatized by assault can’t remember details with 100% fullness or precision, that doesn’t mean the assault didn’t happen. A woman traumatized by years of abuse can’t explain why she didn’t leave after the first time he hit her, that doesn’t mean he didn’t hit her. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean she consented to being hit.

This system supports abusers. Yes, there has to be presumption of innocence, but there also needs to be understanding of reality and what can be considered to be reasonable behaviour in the context of trauma. The system favours the abuser from the moment a woman is asked to tell her story while she is still confused and trying to make sense of what has happened to her, to the moment much later on when every detail of her initial report is being examined under a microscope and questioned.

‘Why did you talk to him after he suddenly punched you in the head? That doesn’t make sense.’ Neither does somebody suddenly punching you in the head.

‘Why did you make him breakfast in the morning after he raped you the night before? That doesn’t make sense.’ Neither does being raped by someone you had previously always been able to trust.

Assault and abuse don’t make sense, so of course victims are going to be confused and it can take a long time to sort out realities. There is a process called cognitive dissonance by which a person tries to reconcile mutually exclusive pieces of information – inevitably one thing has to stop being true but it can often be excruciatingly confusing to figure out which one.

If you’re on a fun date with a ‘nice guy’ who then assaults you, you have to try to make sense of that. Is he a nice guy or is he a violent guy? Which personality that was presented to you on that fun date is the right one? Taking it further, if you have years of established trust with someone who then rapes you, you are trying to reconcile a large amount of data (years of trust) with one piece of directly conflicting data (the rape). How long might it take to make sense of that?

To an outsider it may seem black and white, but imagine a trusted person in your life did this to you right now, would it be so clear to you? Imagine through your whole life you have been conditioned to believe that if something bad happens to you, it’s probably your fault – you asked for it, you made yourself too pretty, you laughed too much – would it be so clear to you? Imagine everyone else thinks this other person is such a great person and they suggest that maybe it was all just a big misunderstanding – would it be so clear to you then? How hard would you work to try to find some answers, to make it all make sense somehow? Would you talk to other people? Would you try to talk to or see this ‘trusted person’ again, to try to gather more data? Would you be confused?

Until you’re in the situation yourself you can’t possibly know how you’d react, but if you listen to the stories of people who have been there, and if you read some of the studies that have gathered information from large groups of survivors, you can start to get an idea that ‘normal’ takes on a whole new meaning after abuse.Normal isn’t what outsiders would judge it to be, it’s shifted and confusing and messy. Don’t judge what you don’t know, and if you want to judge, then learn what you don’t know.

Our broken system needs to be fixed.

We need in-depth training for everyone from police officers to judges so that they can understand the impact of trauma on survivors of violence. We need society to stop blaming victims, and start deciding that it is simply not acceptable for men to abuse women (physically, sexually, financially, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually). We need women to stop competing with each other for men’s attention and start supporting each other to create a stronger, safer society for all of us. And we need men to recognize that we’re simply asking for fairness and safety and the right to control our own bodies, which are not unreasonable demands.

I believe that most people fundamentally support the ideas of safety and fairness for women and accountability for crimes committed, but I think some people are afraid of what change would look like and what that might mean for them. In the absence of knowledge and understanding, these people are resorting to extremist illogical arguments to try to protect the status quo. I get it, change is uncomfortable, but change is also necessary.

I would like us all to be able to work together, to have open and respectful discourse to try to problem solve our way to a reasonable solution for this serious problem. But if that’s not possible, then I just want to be very clear: no matter how many generations it takes, no matter how many insults and personal attacks are thrown at us along the way, we will not stop, we will not be silenced, and change will come, whether you like it or not.