Existing in the Disaster’s Wake

Content warning: Assault and abuse.

Yesterday I saw my assailant on the subway, for the second time in as many months. Previous to that, it had been years since I’d shared a space with him. I don’t believe in a higher power. I don’t believe in fate. Still, my mind is trying to make order out of the disorder that seeing him twice in so short a time has caused in my body.

Here is where I have landed:

He is real and he is out there, in my city and in my world. He goes home to what was my family. Every day they share a space with him, when, for me, those seconds were repugnant.

I think about this like a small, personal epicenter of a bigger reality: we, as a society, are okay with sexual assault. Our conviction rates are so low as to make the crime tacitly legal. Of the reported 460,000 Canadians assaulted every year, only around 7000 will see a conviction. When convictions do happen, people do more time for stealing a car than sexually assaulting a human. When someone is convicted, it’s often discovered that they had previous complaints that were dismissed by police. Most who speak to police report being unsatisfied with the process. The most common feeling selected by those surveyed? Devastated. It’s a word we use when a disaster destroys a city and leaves it rubble.

And after that devastation, comes the attempt to rebuild. In the case of a disaster, most can assume that the danger has passed. That the hurricane is over. That the wildfire has gone out. No one pities the disaster. No one brings the earthquake in to their home. We don’t fault the city for daring to exist in the disaster’s wake. My disaster walks around my city. He joins Ghomeshi and Cosby and Turner and all the other disasters that are given succor while we rebuild.

I wonder what it would mean if they turned the disaster away. I wonder what it would mean if I did not have to, in my casual daily travels, brace for the storm. I can’t know. I’ll never know. I can just rebuild again, stronger this time – like every time – and hope that what I’ve built survives.

Trigger Warning

“There are no warnings in real life.”
He said
Sipping from a cup marked CAUTION:HOT

“You just have to deal with what comes.”
He signaled right

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Beware of dog
Slippery when wet
Hidden corner
Alarm will sound

“There are no warnings in real life.”

Watch for falling rocks
Flashing lights may cause seizure
Edges are sharp
Handle with care

“You just have to deal with what comes.”

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here. To read my post on trigger warnings, click here.

If I Ever Liked The Night

If I ever liked the night
If it ever liked me back
That was so very long ago
So long ago
In fact
It may have been
Inside the womb
Ripe with the smell
I remember it well
Of his cigarettes
And her ice cream cones
The sound of their fights
The frenzied tones
Through the thin skin walls
I remember it all

If I ever liked the dark
When we lit sparklers
In the park
Enough, ablaze
To scare away
The nighttime
To convince the day
To stay (which was impossible)
At a festival in the early fall

If I ever liked the moon
When he visited my room
Cool like the fights
Inside the womb
An exploration of my
Skin
Thin, like hers
Afraid, like him

by Heather Emme

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

Thanks For The Ride

I’m going to college. It’s a done deal. Come September, I will be matriculating in the grand halls of Seneca College. How do I feel?

I’m grateful.

I’m grateful to the people who have helped out on my GoFundMe to raise my bus fare to get to school. I will be able to buy almost a full year of transit passes, thanks to the generosity of my friends and family and even a few folks I’ve never met. I haven’t the words.

It was my husband who recently offered insight in to why, specifically, I was worried about making it to classes, about affording transit, above anything else. As soon as he pointed it out, I felt almost doltish. How had I not seen it?

In a previous blog, I talked about my experiences with high school. What I didn’t talk about was why I didn’t graduate after my move to the group home.

I couldn’t afford transit.

It’s so obvious in retrospect. It was the mid nineties. I was in my last year of high school. I had taken my courses. I had done the work. We were coming up on exam time. Then a spot in my group home opened up and after a year, I was on top of the waiting list. I was moved half way across the city. I managed to continue in school for a while, then I ran out of money.

It was a transitional group home, which meant no live-in matron, no on-call care and no financial assistance. We were expected to work and pay rent. If I had been more resourceful, perhaps I would have figured out a way to do it all. But I had been running on leftover steam for quite a few years and, surrounded by my boxes of possessions, feeling absolutely alone, I gave up. Missing my exams because I couldn’t afford the fare? That was like a death knell. I’d gone to five high schools, survived abuse, homelessness, my neurodivergent brain, but it was a few dollars for the subway that did me in. I sat on my boxes and sobbed. I had no fight left. I upped my hours to full time and got to the business of being an adult.

20+ years later, when the opportunity came to go to college, all those old doubts resurfaced. Every exhausting fear came creeping back. Every negative inner whisper. Every worst case scenario

So I asked for help.

And you helped.

All of you helped me save up my bus fare so, no matter what, I’ll never be trapped with no way to get to my classes.

And in exciting news, Times Change Women’s Employment Centre helped me get a bursary to assist with my tuition. I can’t thank them enough. I went in looking for back to work tips, and instead they helped me find my way to go back to school.

I told my husband, the day my bursary came through, “I planned for every contingency, EXCEPT this all working out.”

Dudes – it’s all working out. I’m going to school. I’m really doing it. And everyone who has been there for me through rough times and great times, everyone who kicked a few bucks to my transit fund, everyone who send me a cheesy Facebook boost when I was blue, everyone who let me volunteer in their spaces to learn skills, everyone who read my work and told me my ideas were valuable – you all deserve a bigger THANK YOU than I can convey.

I wish I could go back to the girl crying on the boxes and say, “It’s not over. It’s just delayed. You’re going to school. You’ll get there. And you’ll do it with the help of your friends.”

I say thank you. That girl says thank you. Thank you with all my heart.

Stop Diagnosing Donald

Dear Discourse-loving intellectuals,

Please stop trying to diagnose Donald Trump. Now.

I understand the desire to put a name to the way he behaves, I truly do. I understand your frustration as he heaps disrespect on disrespect while maintaining his Teflon veneer. But in your efforts to dismantle his run for the presidency, please do not use a-neurotypicality as your proof that he does not deserve to run.

We saw this phenomenon with Barack Obama. When people ran out of ways to challenge his policies, they went for an easy out – they called him a Muslim. They did this because they knew, on some level, that there was a underlying and pernicious prejudice against Muslims. And while an open and fair examination of the rhetoric would show that there’s nothing at all wrong with being a Muslim, by associating him with an unpopular group, his detractors were able to tap into an existing prejudice and use it. Folks were quick to declare he wasn’t a Muslim. Fewer pointed out that it’s not okay to use Muslim as an insult or as an implication that his character is questionable.

Now we’re seeing the same song coming from the other side of the political spectrum in regards to Donald Trump. This time, without a diagnosis or his own self-inclusion in the community, people are calling Donald Trump mentally ill. Crazy. Mad. He’s been diagnosed by pretend doctors so many times, it’s like watching all of the seasons of House at once. And whether there is any fact to it (something that people are jumping in to debate) the real question is, what is wrong with being mentally ill? Why are we cool with the underlying and pernicious prejudice this shows against a-neurotypical folks?

In the end, much as the people who implied Obama was Muslim, the folks implying Trump is mentally ill are relying on the current climate of disrespect for mentally ill folks to help bolster their argument that he should not be president. And as a mentally ill human, I’m not happy being your insult. I’m hurt by the rush to use the way I am to discredit anyone, even someone whose behaviors I disdain. Call him cruel, call him privileged, call him un-presidential, but don’t call him mentally ill as though that were the end of a conversation and not the very beginning.

Re-Schooled

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Kindergarten

I’m going back to school. That’s it. It’s happening. No matter how big a challenge the next two years are, I’m going back to school. Specifically, I’m taking a Library and Information Technician program. I’m cautiously jazzed about this. Cautious because it’s a big investment of time and money and – if I’m being honest – because no dream that a person has had for 30 years can ever be as good as what they’ve imagined. Jazzed because holy damn, I’m going to school!

 

I understand that for a lot of people, school was hard. But for me, it was my oasis. Every day, from 8:30 to 3:30, I was in my element: a place where books and art and ideas were valuable and questioning things was often encouraged.

If I’m being honest, it was also a place I was safe. It was my escape and I loved it, even when it was harsh or I had trouble with other kids or I got something less that an 80.

I remember clearly every teacher I’ve had, starting with Ms. Crouch in kindergarten all the way up to Mr. Piercey, who taught me Grade 12 English online after I returned to high school recently.

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Grade Two

To be clear, I didn’t leave school because I wanted to. The year I left, I had obtained the highest mark in all three of my courses for that semester. I still have the letters of congratulations from the principal. I was thinking about taking English in University and my grades meant that despite my poverty, I had a chance at making it. But just before exams, my abuser found out that I had “told” what had happened to me. I ran within minutes of finding out he knew, taking with me just what I could carry. His threats were a stronger motivator than any hope I had.

 

I still managed to attend most of my classes, while crashing on the couches of friends or staying up all night and catching sleep at school or on the subway. Then a spot opened up in a transitional group home. Since I had nowhere else to go, I took it, but that meant moving outside of my school district and starting again (not for the first time) in a new space with new challenges. As soon as I was out of immediate danger, I fell apart. I was bowled over by my own emotional combustion.

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Grade 8

I wonder if I could have fought it out then – but I just can’t look at back at the person I was and fault her for taking a job and focusing on surviving.

 

Since then, I’ve tried to go back to school a few times, with varying success. There was always something else that needed my focus, and that’s okay. That’s how life is. But a few years back I caught a bug that totaled my system. One day I had a seizure and, internally, I thought – oh, this is it, the end of my life. I realized that I was happy, in that moment. Happy with my love and home and the family and circle of friends I had built. I realized that I only had one regret and that was not finishing school.

So almost immediately, I started completing high school using TDSB e-Learning courses. They are fabulous, by the way, if you’re thinking about going back. I found that school was still very much in my blood. In my first course, the aforementioned English with Mr. Piercey, I received my first 100%. In all my courses, I never once dipped below a 98%. It’s something I’m proud of, as I was working and healing that whole time.

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Grade 12, the second time around.

More than that, though, I loved it. That passion to share and learn, to strive to communicate and to listen, it felt like a homecoming, even if it was a virtual one.

 

That brings us to December of last year when I was laid off from work and injured myself pretty badly all in a few short days. In the time since then, two big things have happened: I had surgery, which I’m still recovering from (but quite well, thanks!) and I applied to go to college to become a Librarian!

If you know me, you know books are my heart (well, books and my love Graeme.) You know that with my years of work with kids and work with words, I’m suited to do this gig. But even more than that, it will be the final stage in my return to school.

I’m applying for some bursaries and assistance, but even with that, it’s going to be a massive cost. We will become a one income family and that’s going to be a shock to the system, for sure. But we will make it work, no matter what. I need to see that piece of paper with my name on it. Need need.

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College!

We’ve set up a GoFundMe so folks can help if they’d like. We’re asking only insofar as you have it to give, because we realize that most of us are in a tight place right now. Give what you can, if you can and if you want to. And know that no matter what, you’ve all helped me get to this place and I am so, so grateful.

My plan is to post videos and updates as I go, so you can see what you’ve helped accomplish.

Thank you all. So much.
See you in September!

Heather

 

 

Pen Strokes

Our nakedness is suspect
It is secret
It is sold
Our physical exposure is commoditized
And airbrushed clean
And slid from left to right
Pores abolished
Scars expunged
Our nature is covered in pen strokes
Until there is no naked left
But only the art of men

Our passions, they are suspect
They are secret
They are sold
Our conceptual exposure is commoditized
And edited clean
And slid from left to right
Forthrightness abolished
Hurt expunged
Our spirit is covered in pen strokes
Until there is no passion left
But only the words of men

by Heather Emme

I’m still in surgical recovery, so poems are keeping my blog alive. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Pause

I want go back
To Rexdale and say
They stopped a parade for you
The noise they made for you
The way they stayed for you
Your life matters

by Heather Emme

I’m still in surgical recovery, so posts continue to be brief and scattered. This is the first time I’ve posted one of my twitter poems to #verseday. I felt this was worth repeating. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

 

Out

I came out
The station door
Church and Wellesley
Ninety-Four
Silent, shy
I heard a roar
It shook the floor
A million people
Maybe more

And more than that
Yes, more than that
Were colours
Like a Sunday hat
Colours like a rainbow, earthed
And planted, sewn
And watered, grown
So many bodies
Like my own

And I was home

by Heather Emme

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

Writing To You from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Fingerprints stamp urgency
Where postmarks can’t be found
A letter this important
Should not be here on the ground

by Heather Emme

Just a mini-verse as I recover from my surgery. To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.