no more silence, only song

#metoo, she said
he said
they said

they do it 4 teh money

all that sweet they-fucked-me money
someone went to town on me
flannel nightgown down on me

…and all i got was this ptsd
and all i got was no family
and all i got was homeless
and hopeless
and shamed and named and still i came and said
#metoo

y didn’t they come out sooner? #lies

but we did
we did since words were words
and no one heard
we shouted into broken mics
we got no likes

we burned our flesh
and hoped the smell
the smell would tell you
might compel you
to our side
i never lied

and artemisia and ms. maya
and a hundred hundred hundred
like a storm unleashed
we thundered
in our songs and books and verse
with the weapon in our purse
we said me
and me and me

but you didn’t see with hands on eyes
and now it’s such a great surprise
you’re shocked, you never knew
till you saw the words #metoo?

another 1 jumping on teh bandwagon

yes, the wagon’s very full
so the horses have to pull
just to gain a little movement
after all this standing still

the songs we play are all the same
a different night
a different name
but harmony
in all the shame
and loss and costs
and silences
cause violence is
a silencer
and silence is like death
all our songs are bated breath

and we haven’t started yet
when we fucking kill regret
when we live, and don’t forget

and the static of the mics
we’re turning on

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

no more silence, only song

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From #MeToo to #WhatNow? – After You Share Your Story

Hello fellow #MeToo human. It’s been a tough year, right? I mean, after years of dealing with something that seemed pretty hopeless, there’s this light. This organic light created by people like us who have been hurt and fought to be heard and finally said NO MORE SILENCE. It’s…

Well, that’s the thing, it’s SO many things. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. It’s emotionally wrenching. It’s impossible.

It’s a lot like surviving in the first place.

I’m not here to tell you what will work for you, because 1/6th (or more) of the planet has been here and I have no illusions that I know the different factors that make up your life. I’m going to tell you what worked for me. (And if you want to skip all that and just get to a list of resources, click here.)

Me: I’m a person who was abused, assaulted and harassed, both in childhood and as an adult. I told the first person what happened to me more than 20 years ago. I’ve been very open about it since the late 90s and, probably more often than most folks would care for, it’s the focus of this blog.

I did tell people. I did try to make a police report. It didn’t work. I have complex PTSD, which I deal with pretty well, except sometimes when I really don’t. I keep trying to “fix” myself, which I realize is both problematic AND what is expected. I lean more towards depression than anger. I am held together by planning and sticky-tape.

That’s me. That’s not you.

So with all that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned from my 20+ years of saying #MeToo.

It Will Normalize

I say this rather than it will get better, because better is a lie. The body longs for homeostasis. The brain wants you to make sense of things. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard on the system, but there has been, for me, a normalization of the experience. It’s not gone, but it lives deeper. I’ve piled stuff on top of it. I’ve given my brain other experiences to pick from. I’m sure the right meds helped, but honestly, it’s just time. Which is shitty, but worth holding on to. Time doesn’t fix it, but it dilutes it.

Get Help but BE CAREFUL

Get help. You probably hear that one a lot.

But also, be cautious. If you are hurting, it’s easy to jump at anything that promises relief. If you’re not careful, though, it can cost you a lot of money and sometimes make things worse. Anyone who claims they can cure you for a cost is probably lying. There’s no cure for this. It’s not something you can leach out or fix with something you buy in a health food store. We are a big demographic. There’s a lot of money to be made from our desperation to feel well again. Lot’s of folks promise to make it all go away. Before you spend your money – before you tear off a scab and expose your wounds to someone – consider this:

  • Does this approach match who I am as a person?
  • Does this approach cost so much that it puts my well-being in other areas in danger?
  • Is it regulated? Do some research. See what folks are saying.
  • What are the results? Don’t trust their stats. Places like MedLine are set up to offer vetted medical information, so consider searching on there for another POV on the treatment you’re considering.
  • Am I safe? This is a big one. Are you comfortable with the neighbourhood the treatment is in? Are you comfortable with the staff? Are you trusting your alarm bells or silencing them just to get through it? Let those bells ring.
  • Is the person just well-intended or are they well-qualified? This is a big one. Lots of folks want to help but their desire is not the same as qualifications. You are not someone’s project.

All of this is not to say don’t seek help. Over the last 20 years I’ve had some success and some stuff that set me way back, emotionally and financially. Filter from the get-go. I understand wanting to feel anything but what you’re feeling, but the system isn’t in place for a perfect path to help and healing. We have to navigate some really gross waters to get to the other side. Be safe. Be picky.

Be safe (it was worth saying twice.)

I’ve include a list at the bottom of this blog of places that are considered reputable. Some may work for you. Some may not. Feel free to explore them, but trust that part of you that’s telling you “this one isn’t for me.”

People Will Say Shitty Things

People will say you should have said something sooner. They will say you shouldn’t have said anything until there was a trial. They will say you are looking for attention. They will say you should get over it. They will say that you are ruining lives.

They will say it can’t have been that bad. They will say you asked for it. They will say you are lying. They will say it is not fair to make them choose between you and the person who hurt you.

They will ask what you were wearing. They will tell you what you could have done to avoid it. They will tell you what they would have done had it happened to them. They will tell you that your abuser seems like a nice person.

They will tell you it happened so long ago and wonder why it still bothers you. They will tell you that they find your pain inconvenient. They will tell you that you are too intense. They will tell you that you seem fine. They will tell you that you aren’t special. They will tell you that they don’t believe you. They will say “innocent until proven guilty.” They will say “due process.”

They won’t say anything at all. They’ll pretend they didn’t hear. They will give you the look. They will stop calling. They will unfriend you. They will forget to invite you to things.

People will say shitty things.

DON’T TAKE IT IN. I mean, you will. It will hurt. That can’t be helped. But know that we ALL hear these things. We hear them because people are new to not being shitty about this. Write them down and throw them out. Have a bonfire of shitty things people say.

But also, write down all the supportive things people say and carry them with you. Pull them out of your wallet every time someone says something shitty.

I know that these things are like repetitive strain, like water torture. One hurts, a hundred makes you want to die. But seriously, fight this. Repeat truths until you drown them out. Sometimes, because I am a geek, I just say “I am one with the force and the force is with me.” I mean, it’s not perfect, but it works for me. Find what works for you.

And friends of people going through this – call out folks who say shitty things to your friends so they don’t have to. It helps.

Don’t Hurt Yourself

This can mean a lot of things, but first of all, survive. Seriously. It can get that bad. It might get that bad. It did for me. I wish I could say there was a safe place to go, but there isn’t always. Call friends. Call helplines. Make someone help you survive.

Don’t be around people who aren’t determined to help you survive.

For a long time, I carried this comic by a friend around in my wallet and I pulled it out whenever my brain forgot survival was better. Find your talismans. Find your songs. Find your humans. Find a chocolate bar that is worth surviving for and go buy it. Find a movie. Find a smell. Find something. And if you can’t find anything, talk to a doctor. It will probably suck and won’t feel like surviving and the system is a mess, but YOU NEED TOO SURVIVE. That is literally all that matters.

As to the rest of it, remember what I said about normalizing stuff? Well, sometimes our brains try to normalize pain by keeping it going. This can mean self-injury, dangerous decisions, punching things that are harder than our skin.

We all have scars and sometimes it feels good to make them external.

Our brains can take that experience of someone hurting us and decide to pick up where they left off. If they said shitty things to us, we keep up the narrative. If they hurt us, we hurt us. If they made us feel unsafe around sex, we jump into unsafe sex. We can use all kinds of substances to obliterate feeling anything at all.

It’s hard to stop that pain train once it’s in motion. It’s exhausting. It’s not a simple thing to just say “don’t do those things.” For me, it was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of the time, standing in my own way and saying, “nope, not cutting today.” 20 years and it’s still a fight. But I’m still fighting.

Fight that shit.

Again, if it’s too much, I’m posting a bunch of resources at the bottom of this. If they help, use them to survive. If they don’t, find other ways to survive. Please survive.

Find an Outlet

This one is super personal. It’s about finding a way to exorcise the overwhelming nervous system/emotional response that can feel like Schrödinger’s bomb in your body. I like to write. Sometimes I smash things in a semi-controlled way. Then I make art out of the smashy bits. I have a friend who boxes and another who weight-lifts. Neil Gaiman recommends making good art.

If you’re low on cash, it can be hard to find an outlet. After all, axe-throwing costs money. I think that’s why writing was my thing. Paper was cheap. And after you let it out, pamper yourself. Go to a park. Swing on some swings. Get your hands in some dirt. Take a bath. Whatever works for you. Soothe your system.

Let it out safely and treat yourself kindly afterward.

It doesn’t make it go away, but it can go a long way to helping with the last bit – the not hurting yourself bit. It can calm the bomb.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got. I wish I had more. I wish I could make this anything but a shitstain of an experience. I can’t. You can’t. It’s the fucking worst. I’m sorry you’re hurt and I’m proud of you for dealing. I’m proud of you for surviving. I’m glad I lived to see the #MeToo moment and sad that we need it.

For a bit of help with #WhatNow? here are some resources. Remember, be picky. None of these make it go away, but one of them may help you deal. Be as well as you can.

#MeToo,
Heather

American Psychological Association
Getting help, what you can do, news, etc.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Canada)
“The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone and TTY crisis line to all woman who have experienced abuse.”

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
We are a Pan Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault.”

Edmonton Police (Canada)
“What you can expect when reporting a sexual assault”

FORGE
“FORGE has published four guides specifically to address the needs of transgender and non-binary individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or assault; loved ones of trans survivors; and facilitators of trans support groups.”

Kid’s Help Phone (Canada)
“Remember: sexual assault is not your fault and no one has the right to touch you sexually without your permission. You can call Kids Help Phone 24/7 if you need to talk at 1-800-668-6868.”

MedlinePlus (USA)
A site of vetted medical information with links to other resources.

Men & Healing
“We are one of Canada’s leading agencies in a male-centred approach to psychology and therapy.”

Multicultural Women Against Rape (Toronto, Canada)
“TRCC/MWAR run a variety of peer support groups throughout the year. Groups are available to those who have experienced sexual assault.”

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Ontario Human Rights Commission
“Sexual harassment is against the law. The Ontario Human Rights Code Code prohibits sexual harassment in employment (and in services, housing, and other “social areas”).”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (USA)
“RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.”

Toronto Police (Canada)
“A guide for sexual assault survivors.”

Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (Toronto, Canada)
“The Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC) available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a comprehensive service that assists women, men, and trans people who are victims / survivors of sexual assault and domestic / intimate partner violence.”

There are more resources out there. This is a starting place. If you know of any good resources I missed, or any that are useful internationally, please let me know. I’ll add them.

And remember:

SURVIVE.

The President, The Actor, My Father and Me

A little over one year ago, there was an election race in the United States of America. In this race, the nominee for the Republican Party spent more time in the news for his hateful rhetoric than he did for public policy. Most people assumed that there was a comment – some comment – that would sway the public away from him. I live in Toronto and I watched the mayoral stumblings of Rob Ford. I was less certain.

Susanna_and_the_Elders_(1610),_Artemisia_Gentileschi“I moved on her like a bitch.”

“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

“I did try and fuck her. She was married.”

And that was just one conversation. One recorded conversation. One recorded conversation that was proof that a man running for president thought men could do anything to women. Then he was elected – and he was proven right.

The repercussion of his win are hard to explain, but it proved something to victims. It proved that every excuse we’d heard for why justice had not been meted out was a lie. It proved that a recorded confession was not enough. It proved that a dozen people with corroborating stories was not enough. It proved that overt and predatory lechery was not enough.

Nothing is enough.

That was it. That and Cosby and Ghomeshi and every other powerful person who hurts people without consequence. That was the moment we realized exactly how little we mattered. How little our pain mattered.

That realization was paired with a new ability to connect to each other and to count ourselves. When my first abuse happened in the 80s and 90s, there was no connective tissue like the one we have now. Our isolation was both a tool of our abusers and a symptom of our abuse. My father told me not to tell. He said things that I assumed were unique. He said I was special for being mature. He said I should never tell anyone or they would put him in jail. He said he would get me.

It lived in me. It lived there as others, spotting a pre-trained victim, repeated the abuse in new flavours and colours. Saltier tears or louder screams. Different ceilings and darker nights. Churches and workplaces and bus stations. My living room couch and a theatre and a restaurant. In each instance, I collapsed further inward. I wrote about my experience and tried to support others dealing with theirs, but the isolation persisted.

So did the hope.

I hoped that the people who were supposed to have protected me would come around. Sometimes, in a moment of sincere naivety, I even hoped my abuser would come around. He’s dying now, I’ve heard. A part of me still wants to ask him why. A part of me wants him just to admit it.

Artemisia_Gentileschi_-_Mary_Magalene_as_Melancholy_1621-22

Seeing a man win an election who was so overtly cool with sexual assault killed that tender hope. It told me that a huge swath of folks didn’t actually think victims were liars – they just didn’t care. We were unimportant. And that fucking hurt. I cut off the world, the way I was trained. I didn’t read the news. I didn’t call friends. I was okay, alone. I was alone, okay? Friends let me be. Friends reached out. Friends sent me coded messages that may not have been for me.

A year later and a story comes out that an actor attacked a 14 year old kid. I know his story wasn’t the first one, but it’s the one that hit me the hardest. Maybe it was the similarity in ages or the physical similarities between our assailants. Maybe it was because that survivor’s voice, on a CD, kept me going in the group home I ended up in after I told the truth and found myself disposed of.

I don’t know him either. He was just a voice. I don’t believe in heroes. They are always too human in real life. But it shook it all up again. It’s been shaken so much I’m like a Bond martini of anxiety.

There seems to be a movement toward believing people. That’s good. It is. But it also means that survivors have to see a dozen conversations about things they hold in to get through a day. It means that I have to stop myself a hundred times over from explaining, AGAIN, why 96% of survivors who see no justice is more shocking than the 2% possibility of false accusations. It means that I have to do my job and live my life and ignore the panic and the pain in my stomach and the nightmares so bad I bruise my face in my sleep.

So here it is. Conversations I’m tired of having.

I think some people are just crying wolf.
Perhaps. But we live in a place and time where one in six have been mauled by said wolves so maybe we have a fucking problem with wolves and we should listen.

A false accusation can ruin a career.
Even a confession can’t ruin a career (see above re: President.) But let’s also consider the amazing deleted careers of folks who were assaulted when they were first starting out. Let’s consider the people who chose speaking out over their careers. Let’s value the artistic contributions that survivors make, even when they’ve been turned inside out. Let me mourn for those lost and altered voices.

If these folks had spoken out earlier, they might have saved someone else.
*BUZZER* Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. No one gets to judge folks for the way they reacted to assault, unless they chose to hurt others.

Damn – side-tracked again.

That’s why I wanted to include the actor. That’s reason number two why this story hit me so hard. He was, if you believe his brother, also a victim of an abuser. He was hurt. Then he hurt. I know that’s true of my abuser. I know it’s true of more than one of the people who didn’t keep me safe. It’s a huge, messy, fucking loop. Time is not a line.

Susanna_e_i_vecchioni_di_Artemisia_Gentileschi,_Museo_Civico_di_Bassano_del_GrappaThe person who hurt me was the boy who was hurt by a man who was a boy who was hurt by a man who was a boy who was hurt…and on it goes. I am the kid I was and the person I have grown to be. That kid isn’t gone and in my dreams, my abuser/the child he was/the dying man is young and his polyester work pants scratch my skin. And I am soft skinned and thin skinned and I still can feel it now and maybe he can still feel his abuser now.

So there it is, in all its non-linear, time-looping glory. Presidents and paupers, parents and children, actors and survivors and me.

Tending an almost extinguished hope, one breath at a time.

The Final Embolism: Introduction

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been light on Facebook and non-existent on Twitter. I’ve stayed home. I’ve worked. I’ve fixed up my house. I’ve binge watched GoT, Westworld and documentaries. I’ve been un-social (I figure antisocial probably requires more energy than I’ve got.)

Why?

Because I could not see the point.

Even as I write this, I’m arguing with that internal voice that teases, “There is no point.”

At times, I have been prolific. When depression strikes, I lose my words. It’s like there’s a slow leak and as I have ideas, thoughts, they leak out. There’s no permanence to them.

This was not like that.

Why I don’t write is a close cousin to why I do write.

It is not just because it’s a cheesy pun that I named this blog Heather Emmebolisms. I put some thought in to it. An embolism is a sort of blockage. When it is there, things cannot flow as they should. In writing, my goal was to free ideas that were on loop in my brain; to share my ideas and make space for something new. I shared these words, many based on my experiences as a female-appearing, queer, mentally ill, formerly-homeless abuse survivor, in what I am coming to see as a naively optimistic faith in the power of human empathy.

I think I believed, if I could explain my experiences well enough and pair it with an attempt at fair-minded analysis and understanding of the paths of others, that what I wrote would be an entry point.

When I was young, reading wasn’t just my escape. It was a tool toward understanding others. I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and I changed. I read Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell and I changed. Heck, I read Lettin’ It All Hang Out: An Autobiography by RuPaul and I changed. Their openness to share their experiences made me more empathetic, more tuned in, more open.

Perhaps there was some hubris in the idea that I could reach people. But more-so, there was hope. There was a hope that the things other humans had done to me would not be so pointless if I could pull them out, lay them raw and use them. It lent them a purpose.

That was, in large part, why I wrote. Ego and altruism as bedfellows.

Then, then, then.

Then I saw that we rarely change. We wear the trappings of change, but we just shift and shuffle and slide, right, left, center. We sink until we choke on it and then we claw out and breathe air and say never again and sink.

As a little child, I knew my grandparents had lived in Germany during the second world war. My grandmother had been a child and my grandfather a young adult. My grandfather, who had been an intellectual and musical young man, never spoke of it. We knew not to mention it. My grandmother spoke of it rarely and I will not tell her stories here, but I will say there was a thread of easy horror to them. An air of inevitability about the ways we are able to hurt each other. Perhaps that is why my family found religion. It is easier to think that devils make us into sinners than that cruelty is, for some, a default setting. For some. For most. For all? I don’t mean sneering, b-movie cruelty. I mean passive cruelty. The passive cruelty that lets us exist every day without calculating the cost. We are creatures of a thousand small daily cruelties.

In my writing, I assumed we participated in these cruelties because we did not know better and because to live such a thoroughly examined life would be exhausting. I suppose I trusted that, as more voices were heard, we would see change. I felt hope. I felt hope as the Catholic Church was called out for their institutionalized abuse of children. I felt hope when high profile rape cases were called in to court and, finally, when the voices of 50 women were enough to appear to sway public opinion. I felt hope when the rights of marriage were extended somewhat and love was not viewed so narrowly. I felt hope when BLM and Idle No More stood in the path of passive and active cruelties and said no more.

But then, there have always been people crushed under cruelty who have fought right up to the edges of change. We dance this dance on constant repeat.

What has this to do with why I have not written?

It’s complicated.

I was a part of a family and they were a part of this dance. Over 20 years ago, I left that family. I had been thoroughly destroyed. I had been rendered elemental. I was storm and noise and danger. Still, I kept tendrils to my past. Umbilical cords of contact. They were, again, that hubristic hope. I hoped that if I were something enough (good, eloquent, consistent, demanding, damaged) that through those tendrils some sustenance would come.

While the hope was vague, there were elements that remained consistent. In my hopeful narrative, the man who sexually assaulted me when I was a child would be held culpable. As the police had not responded when I made my report, then it fell on my family to take action. It fell to them to say, we believe. It fell to them to elect to include me in a way that did not require me to share space with my assailant. It fell to them to make amends. It fell to them to assure the safety of the vulnerable people in their community.

And I was ready. I stood on tiptoes peeking in to their lives. I sent out signals, lit with fire. I assured myself that change took time.

Change does not take time. Change does not take.

Perhaps the capacity for change makes one more likely have someone victimize them. After all, what is survival, resilience, but a capacity to change. And when our ability to survive and mutate meets up with this inability to give, even a little, to save us suffering at their hands, we break because they cannot.

I’ve gone offside.

Or perhaps I haven’t. It’s this cognitive stubbornness that stilled my words.

I watched people give Rob Ford pass after pass after pass – enough people to elect him. This was a man who hurt women, insulted people based on their culture and acted, all around, like a vicious buffoon. I tried to understand why people voted for him. I analyzed it. I wrote about it. I avoided landing at the simplest answer.

Cruelty is easy.

Cruelty is so fucking easy.

Then I saw it again with The American. How many passes he was given. I gave up thinking, “This will be the one that turns people away…” far sooner than many.

It all came colliding together at once. How much energy compassion and empathy take. How short we fall, even when we try. How easy it is to be cruel. How thorough the lies we tell ourselves are.

I knew my family would not change. I surrendered to it. I knew that famous and powerful abusers would not see reprisal that matched the impact of their crimes, if they saw any at all. I expected it and I was not disappointed. I knew I would still participate in a thousand passive cruelties. I found my hope turned sour in my mouth. We do not change. We are like a die where, on occasion, a high number is face up, but we are always the same die. We always re-roll.

This is the final embolism. I will release it over several posts, like chapters. Here I will clear out the last blockages. Not in the hopes of reaching anyone, but because I still have some small hope: I hope that when I let it all out, I will again find myself full of words, even if it is in a new place, with a new name.

I hope I will want to write again. I hope I will re-find hope.

Ways To Go

Your bed was in my dream last night
Beige knit bedspread
Reaching out to my hand
Where I lay on the floor
Counting the wooden tiles
Like building block pieces
In checkered patterns

Now right to left
Now up and down

Cheap and replaceable
So tenants destroy just one small part
With cigarettes left burning
Or oil spilled from bottles promising VEGETABLE
So mothers can count ten servings
With bags and jars and mixes and cans
On pyramids sent back to school

You were on your bed last night
As young as I am now old

Now brown haired
Now grey
Now brown

Because I am dreaming
I do not hate you
And you smile
And you hurt me
And I think of ways to go.

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

The Two Definitions of Wonder

 

2016 has been a tough one, no denying. Still, I keep hope, because the alternative is too depressing to bear. In the spirit of sharing hope, my gift to you is one of my favourite holiday memories. Enjoy.

daviesvalValentine Davies was serving in the coast guard in 1944. He had a shy smile, a receding hairline and an impressive nose. He also had a story that started as a question. What would the real Santa think if he entered a department store and saw how commercial his season had become?

Writers know that speculating outcomes to impossible scenarios is a great substitute for inspiration. It’s more reliable too. From Valentine’s question came a short story and then a movie, Miracle on 34th Street. It was a childhood favourite of mine; a film where a young girl was allowed to be clever, a film that confirmed my existing bias that miracles were real.

I was living in a group home in 1996 when I met a boy. He had a shy smile, a receding hairline and an impressive nose. He had captivating hazel eyes and a wonder that he applied to every pursuit. He carried hope like it weighed nothing at all. We met in a mall. My newly minted cynicism and his unqualified optimism slid comfortably together

In February, we saw the re-release of The Empire Strikes Back. He was so excited, he shook the whole row of theatre chairs. By the end of it, we were dating. By that evening, we were living together.

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-2-57-41-pmOur Eglinton walk-up apartment, shared with a roommate, was my first safe home. We painted our bedroom bright yellow and squeezed in to a single bed. I bounced my madness off his serene strength, painting goddesses on the wall next to his posters of punk bands and space cowboys. I sidled up to happiness and flirted with it, wondering if we could put our differences aside.

By June, we were homeless.

I had experience with scarcity, but for him it was all new. Still, when family offered to take him in – if he was willing to leave me behind – he refused. I convinced him to use what money we had to rent a storage room for a year.

“Take everything that matters and pack it up. That way, when it’s all done, we won’t be starting with nothing.”

With our possessions homed, though we were not, we discovered the city. Some nights we stayed up, wandering Toronto’s PATH system like priests in the Roman catacombs. Vagrancy in Toronto, like burial in those ancient city limits, was illegal, so down we went, hiding from the elements, walking until our legs ached. The tile echoed our voices back, a call and answer with each whisper.

Friends took us in for a day, a week, when they could. We carried two backpacks each, one on the front and one on the back, with clothes, food, notebooks for my poetry, whatever we might need. My experience proved less valuable than his buoyancy, as he made a game of washing our hair in the park or resting in primary-coloured climbers behind schools. He declared the sidewalk to be lava and made it from the Eaton Centre to CityTV without touching down once.

For my birthday, he took me to an outdoor movie, playing for free at Nathan Phillips Square. We stretched out on the cement, our disheveled appearance easily mistaken for grunge cool. He gave me a Blues Traveller CD.

“For when you have a place to play it.” He said it like a promise.

Untitled 2.pngFor his birthday two weeks later, I bought a box of powdered mini-donuts and put a candle in each one. I gave him a twenty-five cent vending machine toy for every year he’d been alive, with a note slipped in each enumerating the ways I loved him.

We tried to find work, but without an address or a phone, it was difficult. We tried to get welfare, but seeking help was a rat maze with no promise of cheese at the end.

If homelessness during a Toronto summer is hard, homelessness during a Toronto winter can be deadly. As November’s gloom crept in, we relied more heavily on friends with empty couches and floors, finding the edges of generosity. His college acquaintances proved our most consistent benefactors. Many nights we ended up at the Parkdale rental of Alex, a computer programmer, and Zeus, a TV tycoon in the making.

We were occupying their couch when Santa came to Toronto. Despite having lived in the city my whole life, I had never seen the parade.

eatonsannexcommons1“Let’s do it!” He cast off our circumstances with a speed I could not match.

Using precious tokens, we traveled downtown. The streets were full of children stuffed into snowsuits, parents hopping foot to foot against the cold. He found us a perch atop a fence and we cuddled close, borrowing seasonal spirit from the gathered crowd.

“Look!” He shouted with each new float, pointing out details, flaws, bits of whimsy.

We laughed at the creepy upside-down clowns, boogied to the marching bands and clutched hands in anticipation of the man himself. When Santa finally came, we cheered through chattering teeth, caught up in the shared fairy tale.

After the parade, we pooled our change for hot cocoa and walked through Queen’s Park, teasing squirrels and making up stories about statues. I kissed him a hundred times, wanting to set the moment, make it official with a stamp that said “This we get to keep.”

It took one day for our sugar plum visions to crash up against reality. Sucking on candy canes tossed out by minor celebrities and city politicians, we attended our last appointment at YouthLink. We were aging out of their counseling demographic, something I had experienced before. I cried, always finding easier access to sorrow than he did. He ground his teeth and flipped through newspapers in the waiting room. He zoned in on the Help Wanted and For Rent sections, assuring me that one of us would find work soon.

Out of ideas and seeking some extension of the previous day’s fantasy, I opened one of my notebooks to a blank page. He read over my shoulder as I wrote.

i_am_santa_clausDear Mr. Santa Claus,

My name is Heather. I’m not a kid, but I do have something I want. My boyfriend and I are homeless right now, so I’m writing to ask for a home for Christmas.

I figure, if it can work for the kid in Miracle on 34th Street, it can work for me.

Merry Christmas.

We asked the receptionist, a sympathetic woman with a cigarette-stained laugh and seasonal nail art, for an envelope and stamp.

“I hope you get what you asked for.” She patted my hand.

We walked back to Alex and Zeus’ apartment, dropping the letter in a mailbox on the way.

It was Alex, who had patiently accepted our intrusion on his orderly life, who helped me find a job. When his work was looking for data entry clerks, he made sure I was one of the first people interviewed. Though my pay was small, it was enough for us to start looking for an apartment.

Our Christmas day was spent as our summer had been, wandering the PATH system, enjoying empty shops still lit up for the holidays. The sparkle had outlasted the celebration.

On New Year’s Day, we found a place. It was a basement under a Chinese food restaurant that had roaches and mold and ground level windows that drunken passers-by peed through if they were left open. The buzzer still said Meryn Cadell, proof that I was not the first poet to live there. It was $500 a month. We took it and made it ours.

old-post-office.jpgI opened our mailbox close to Valentine’s Day to find an envelope with a white bearded man on the front. The return postal code was H0 H0 H0. Inside was a standard form letter from Santa Claus, as created by Canada Post. On the back were a few lines, hand-written in blue ink.

I hope you find a home for Christmas. Maybe there’s a service that can help? I am thinking about you and hoping for the best.

Be well,

“Santa”

I showed it to my love, who started to laugh.

“I guess we did get this place right around Christmas, didn’t we?”

But I am a writer and writers know that speculating outcomes to impossible scenarios is something like inspiration. Somewhere out there, a person had written a response and had held on to it until we popped up in the address book. That person had answered our letter, despite the fact that it had no return address.

He grinned like a kid who’d just seen a very convincing mall Santa.

I smiled, imagining a person opening our letter, reading it with compassion and picking up a blue pen.

1280px-merry_christmas_1

Due Process

I un-followed a Canadian author who helped shape my identity as a human and as a creator. I un-followed her because of a letter she signed. To be clear (because no small statement is ever clear) I did not un-follow her forever. My feed is an ebb and flow of the things I enjoy, the things that give me hope and the things I hope to know. My feed serves me. That’s why it’s mine. I may find, in the near future, that reading her small, instant words feeds me. For now, I’m choking on it. I also did not un-follow her simply because she took a political or personal action I disagree with. She has built up enough good faith as a creator that I see no need to view the world through a lens identical to hers. I un-followed her because it hurt.

Two words she threw out like a casual sprinkling of flavour on a massive meal: Due process.

I am a sexual assault survivor. I am a multiple sexual assault survivor. In almost every case, it was a man who held cross-sections of power attempting to or succeeding at misusing my physical and emotional form because they could.

When I started to realize – well into my teens – that what had happened to me was, indeed, against our presumed social contract, I began the process of seeking my due.

Due process simply means fair treatment in the judicial system. Not only fair treatment for the person who stands accused, but for the person who stands destroyed. Too visceral? Too emotional? Probably.

Here is due process to a person who has been raped, sexually abused or sexually assaulted:

1

Tell someone. This person may be yourself. Often that’s the first person you tell. If you are young, you may tell yourself after a book or a flyer in your school or an episode of Degrassi confirms that the tearing and ripping inside you is not an anomaly, but a reaction. There’s an overt message that you are not alone in numbers, but 1000 subtle messages that you are probably alone regardless. If you are an adult, telling yourself can happen during, or just after or years later. It can happen when you do that math inside your head that says if I scream he will kill me or if I just make it to the end it will be over and she will leave. Math is a process. Math figures out how much more they have to weigh than you to hold you down. Turns out, it’s not that much. It is not fair that this is how you must talk to yourself, but neither is it judicial, so we will pass this step.

2

Tell another someone. Maybe a friend. Maybe using code words. In my case, it was a guidance counselor. She was not the first person I told, but she was the first to break the code. There is a good chance that the person you tell will not believe you. They may try to find a way to show that it was your fault. This is about you, but it’s also not about you. It’s about constructing a safe cocoon of control that says I would not have made those choices so it would not happen to me or I did something similar once and I am not a villain. Sometimes they will believe you, but since they have spent a same lifetime watching dashing men on film win women over by hands-over-ears ignoring their nos and stops and I mean stops, they will wonder if it isn’t just the way things are. This is also not fair. Now that you have told someone, we may be drifting into the judicial. After all, everyone you tell, even your diary or your mother, can be called up later to testify. That’s the process. Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all, and to smile in pictures at picnics, but then, those pictures may also be called to testify. Anyone/thing you tell is likely to come back at you. This blog could come back at me. Every time we speak, we give a piece of ourselves to that process that we cannot take back with honest words. Words are not proof.

3

Tell the police. Go to the police. We use ‘the’ with police because everyone knows what you mean. No need to give qualifiers, adjectives. They are the police. The police with candies at parades and dirty looks when you walk in groups with other people from school. The police who, perhaps, look more like your assailant than you. Here the process comes due. If you have made it to this part in the process, you are one of only 6 out of 100. 94 out of 100 people chose to stop at step 1 or step 2. You sit in a room or curl up in a ball in a room or pretend you are not in a room and try to take something that is bigger than any part of you and break it down small enough that it will fit on a piece of paper that can go in a file in a drawer or on a computer and maybe turn into fair treatment in the judicial system. If this outcome were common, there would be more than 6 of you. It is not common. Numbers show that. Stories show that. Rooms full of women secure that no one is listening show that. Our arms and our medications and our nervous ticks show that.

4

There are two ways this step in the process can go. You may find, like I did, like a fall from a high height that lands you square on your back, that the last step takes all the wind out of you. It is okay if your process ends here. The next step involves lawyers. Lawyers are people who went to school for a very long time to study a system created before most folks could vote or own property or avoid being property. An apple tree can grow a thousand ways, but it’s still an apple tree. Until we plant something new, this is our only apple tree. This apple tree sucks. People will tell you to have faith in it. They may point to new branches that have grown since you were considered a person. They may say that the roots are strong enough to maintain us through change. That is bullshit. Only 1 out of 65 of us will see fruit from this tree and that fruit is often small and full of worms. Have I lost you? Anyone who tells you that you should not have feelings until due process is served is choosing not to see that no matter how nobly an idea may grow, it is only by its fruit that we can truly judge it. There is no fucking fruit.

5

Some people may think that the previous step is the last one in the process, but there is another. This is a step we take when we’ve exhausted one of the previous steps and found that, no matter what the promise of fairness is, the social contract we have signed has crap clauses. It has the clause that wealthy people and famous people and popular people and really any people can still succeed, no matter what they do to us. They can be free. They can be loved. They can be president. It has a clause that says we are to stay very, very silent no matter what happens, unless the tree gives us grand, ripe fruit. They do not point out the very small text that says it rarely does – and then usually when very pretty and convincing humans with pristine pasts and no scars point at very mean looking humans and say, “it was them!” So what do we do? We hold our hand to our mouth and with a theater aside, we whisper our stories in quiet spaces. We write maudlin poetry and carve lyrics on our bellies. We cry when we masturbate and flinch at gentle touches. We sometimes throw the contract out and shout and shout and shout, only to be met, finally, by a two words that I can no longer bear:

Due process.