NACI and the Knife

Yesterday I posted my straight up gut feelings about the situation at North Albion Collegiate Institute and in Rexdale. I realized, while writing it (over and over) that I had more than one story to tell, more than one idea fighting for precedence in my head. This is the second part of that blog, the part where I tell you about the time, in my first year of high school at NACI, that a knife was pulled on me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

The sense memories tied to this image are overwhelming for me.

I was a very awkward ninth grader. Still just under five feet tall, I was also deeply dorky. I was religious and could kindly be described as pudgy. I preferred the imagined world of LM Montgomery to the real world. If I could have escaped on the Starship Enterprise, I would have. I look back at my ninth grade picture and see someone so insecure that I wonder that she even made it through the foreboding front doors. Still, school wasn’t an option, so I went.

In the end, school was something of a haven for me, because it wasn’t my home. I learn in a way that compliments our current school’s system. Even while floundering due to personal challenges, I excelled at school. I didn’t make friends easily, but I was sociable and smart and I always found people to click with.

There were, as one would expect, people I didn’t get on with. One girl – a pretty, girl with perfect skin and teeth and a doting boyfriend, disliked me almost immediately. It wasn’t anything particularly egregious on either of our parts, we just found ourselves thrown into competing roles in shared interests like the newspaper or the steel band. She saw me as a usurper, I saw her as inflexible. We didn’t mesh (her teeth are scribbled out in my year book.)

What would be a mere annoyance in adult life was, not unexpectedly, drama in high school. One day, perhaps in an attempt to impress her, her boyfriend chased me through the school and out the back door. He was holding a knife.

It was genuinely frightening. He was twice my size and he had a razor’s edge personality that could slip from sweet to scary in a hairsbreadth. I ran like my life depended it on it. It may well have.

If one of my friends hadn’t said “He has a knife!” when he was still a good distance from me, if I hadn’t been a pretty fair runner, if he had been angrier or I had been the type to turn and confront rather than run and hide, my story might have ended like the one so recently in the news.

It didn’t. I went home. I didn’t tell anyone (parents or teachers or anyone in authority) what had happened. We avoided each other the rest of the year.

Then the next year, he and I had drama class together, and we became friends. A boy who had chased me with a knife became, while not a close companion, certainly someone I would sit beside on the bus and chat with. I found out that his father was not in his life in a way he wanted. I found out that he was often angry and he hated himself for it. I found out that he and the girl had not lasted, and that he felt like an idiot for chasing me through NACI with a knife.

I found out that he was a person.

This, I think, is the real tragedy of what has happened. There is no chance for the students lost that day (the one who lost his life and the one whose life will never be the same.) One moment that could have ended so many ways ended the worst way imaginable. Now we will never know who those young men could have been. They will be names thrown around when people want tougher laws or more busts. They may be names used to get services brought to a neighbourhood that sorely needs it. Still, they will no longer be just themselves. They are now tied together forever by a horrible second that cannot be undone.


These Are Our Children

This is yet another attempt to write this blog post. Perhaps what I really need is to write several. One to talk about what growing up in Rexdale is like – the moments between the violence that no one sees, the moments that rarely catch our national attention. One to talk about the case of Hamid Aminzada and what it means for Toronto, for Rexdale and for North Albion Collegiate Institute. One to talk about what these should mean for how we vote, how we behave and how we can choose to support neighbourhoods like Rexdale. 

Right now I’m just frustrated. I’m frustrated because the stories, the responses, the lies and the bullshit haven’t changed in the 20 years since I was a high schooler at North Albion (and Kipling and Thistletown and SEE School – I went to a lot of schools.) We lost a student then too. A fight over a basketball game took him. And just like now, people were quick to toss out theories, accusations and generalizations and just as quick to stop talking about it.

I notice it took all of one day for this stabbing to stop trending on Facebook and Twitter. This life that is now gone was worth one day of our enamored attentions and then it was gone. Poof. Washed away by a rude guy on the TTC and still another Mayoral pissing contest.

I am itching to find a way to enact actual change. After 20 years, it’s pretty clear that blaming the usual suspects (immigration, parents, drug culture, the kids themselves) isn’t helping. The racism and anti-immigration vitriol that follows these events is peppered in between the well meaning but ultimately meaningless RIPs and hand-wringing of the pretty and privileged.

What needs to change? For one, our attention span. There’s no quick fix, no ice bucket challenge, that will mend Rexdale. It’s been Rexdale since I was there and it will keep being Rexdale until something drastic changes. Programs like LOVe that used to operate out of NACI before that ended two years ago were a good place to start, but these programs generally fight on for a while before interest or funding or both disappear. After all, it costs a lot to help a few kids. And we don’t value Rexdale’s kids. Their lives are worth exactly one day of our attention.

We need to declare a state of emergency. We need to rally the troops and fight the enemies that are killing our kids, not just in body, but in spirit. We need to counter the hundreds of voices that tell them they do not matter (don’t think that they do not see how poorly they are treated in comparison to their counterparts.) We need to make them a priority. We need to be willing to spend and commit and fail and try again, like you do when an emergency threatens your own child.

How do we do this? I’m going to think on it. I’m going to talk to some people on the ground floor. I’m going to see if there are more things that I can do. I walked away from Rexdale and didn’t look back. It wasn’t a place I was fond of, but it was filled with people I love. Maybe the time has come for me to look back, to look forward and to see if I can do for the children there what was not done for me. Some of this will be by supporting organizations already doing good work there. Some of this will be through contact with different levels of government. Maybe something new. I will look. And what I find, I will share with you.

I wanted better then. I know that NACI is full of students who want better now. It’s our obligation, as people who believe in good, to give it to them.

*Please, don’t indulge in comments that focus on arguments or blame, even though I am feeling a lot of that myself. Fill it with ideas, no matter how radical, silly or unlikely, to bring change to Rexdale. Share the names of groups doing good work there. Share stories. Share sadness. Share possibility.*

My Religion Was My Prison

In my Missionettes uniform. The boys were called Crusaders.

In my Missionettes uniform. The boys were called Crusaders.

The title, I know, is a bit dramatic. In reality, my home was the prison, and religion was the warden, but that just doesn’t fit in a header.

I was raised Fundamentalist Pentecostal. For some folks, those two terms are at cross purposes, as the traditional Fundamentalists actually opposed the Pentecostals, but in my circles it was used to mean more Pentecostal than the Pentecostals. More hard core. More committed. More evangelical. More filled with the spirit. Others sometimes use the term Charismatic.

For the uninitiated, here is what defines a Pentecostal:

  • An emphasis on the Pentecost. The Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit (he gets capital letters because, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, that’s his name) descended on the Apostles (they get capital letters because…uh…they do.)
  • A belief in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as granted when you are filled (after praying and dedicating your life to Jesus.) Some of these include prophesy, glossolalia or speaking in tongues, healing and leading.
  • Lots and lots of rules.

For some anecdotal idea of what this meant for me, you can read my blogs about Feminism in response to religiosity, the apocalypse and even more on the apocalypse.

Or you could skip all that and watch the video I pull out whenever people really want to know what it was like:

Or you could watch this video of my former pastor.

Not to say that there weren’t merits to the church. Music. Boy, was the music fantastic. And there was the community. There were always people around to help you and judge you and sometimes hit you…wait. That doesn’t sound like a merit. Uh…music. Let’s stick with the music.

But Heather, you may say, how does any of this sound like prison? Or maybe you’re not saying that. Maybe this is just a segue from the set-up to my point. Maybe.

Since my teenaged years, when I moved away from the abuse and drama that was my Pentecostal home, I’ve looked for people to relate to. It’s a natural compulsion, I think. It’s why those tell-all books sell so well. I tried to find voices that I could relate to in all kinds of stories. Ones to give me catharsis (I can cry for them even when I cannot cry for me.) I did not find it among the Mommy Dearests or the Glass Castles. The first place I found it was in a cinema, watching In The Name Of The Father. It was 1994 and a boy I didn’t overly like had come to a movie with me. He thought it was a date, I didn’t.

The movie told the story of Gerry Conlon, a man convicted of a crime, a London bombing, that he didn’t commit. Part way through the movie, I started to cry. The boy made a clumsy, sexualized attempt to comfort me. He thought I was overwhelmed, I suppose, by Daniel Day Lewis’ performance. I wasn’t. It was the story. A man, in prison, but totally innocent.

It was my metaphor. When people write about abuse, it is almost always tinged by shame. The idea that they might have been asking for it seethes below the surface of the anger or sadness. The self-flagellation is a natural continuance of the abuse suffered. When they stop, we begin.

But in stories of those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit (or even for those they did) there is an undercurrent of rebellion. I believe that rebellion, coupled with the pain of their mistreatment, is what connected me to these stories.

In my home, I was a prisoner, psychologically and sometimes physically. I needed to ask for a glass to drink water, if my mother was in that mood. I could not take food if I was hungry. I could not turn on the television or pick up the phone or leave a conversation unless I was given permission. This occurred not just when I was a child, but when I was a teenager as well. As a child, the punishment was swift and physical. It was absolute and I never figured out the tricks my sisters did to avoid it (one cried immediately, one not at all.) Besides, I was never right. My mother once told me that as an infant I had pushed her away. I had not loved her properly. But then, my mother believed in striking infants for crying, so I don’t wonder that I did.

My childhood church. I'm second from the left.

My childhood church. I’m second from the left.

As I grew up, the church and our Pentecostal home were my whole reality. Even school was taught to be a potential haunt for demons trying to draw me away from God. I was wary of everything.

I was always watched. God was my guard. When mother or one of the church women who reported all infractions to each other were not watching, he always was. I suffered from constant guilt and fear. Unlike other children, I felt no safer breaking the rules in private than I did in public. All of my errors were honest. I remember being punished more for my enthusiasm and curiosity that for my sins.

I’ve recently started watching Rectify, a Sundance program about a man released from death row because of DNA evidence. Again I am struck by the similarities. When he enters the “real” world, he doesn’t know how to behave. I didn’t either. He is stunned by everyday things. He is missing decades of shared experiences, because his was so singular. After I was unceremoniously ejected, I found I had few tools to function in “normal” society. My normal was obedience and fear and a closed community that both policed and nurtured its own. I had never had sex, tried drugs, gone a day without praying or learned to make my own decisions.

One thing that struck me about Rectify was how easily the main character allows himself to be led. He has no direction because direction was never his to own. He is used to following orders. I don’t follow orders, but the next step, the self-initiation, still proves hard for me. I don’t know how to start. I sometimes wonder at who I really am. I am not solid. I am what’s left after I extricated gods and monsters from my being.

Like the prisoners I read about and watch, I am still trapped. I am still watched. I am still waiting for the walls to return.


At times I put things off until the deadline is looming, even with my professional writing. I think this has to do with the adrenaline and drive that pending potential failure offers. I also like to percolate my ideas as long as possible before I put them on paper (or in pixels, as is the case.)

Sometimes this results in better work, fed by the thrill of accomplishment. Other times it overwhelms me and I almost fall apart. Then I remind myself that I am too old for this, drink a nice hot coffee and get to writing.


Come On Get Happy

Perusing my own recent posts, I see a trend. I suppose, as a person with depression, it’s not shocking that I talk about, well, depression. And suicide. And lots of other socially important ideas. But seriously, even I need a break from it.

So today, for no reason and in no particular order, things that make me happy.

Girls In Geekdom (GIG)
And by girls I mean women, womyn, babes, cosplayers, anyone who identifies as female, dudes who support GIG. You know, all the cool peoples. I love my geeky ladies. A few who  make me extra happy:

Leslie Doyle
If you don’t know Leslie’s art, you should because it looks like this:

Why Hello There...

Why Hello There…

I mean…really. Just wow. Go. Enjoy. Tell her I sent you. Sponsor her on Patreon. Enjoy her geekery on Tumblr. You can thank me later.

Charlotte and Stewart
These handmade dollies are (full disclosure time) totally made by my big sister. I’m pretty sure she is the coolest big sister.

Skater Punk Rock Zombie Boy. Because why not.

Skater Punk Rock Zombie Boy. Because why not.

See? Dollies and art. Dollies and art make me happy.

Debs and Errol
Debs is a classically trained singer. Errol is…Errol. I loves them. They are ridiculous and hilarious and they just got to open for the cast of TNG at Montreal’s Con.

It went well.

It went well.

Oh, they also have a daily comic, a pretty rabid (I foam at the mouth sometimes, it’s true) geek following and a couple of pretty nifty CDs.

So there you have it. Something that makes me happy. Girls In Geekdom.

Ya happy now?

Dear Robin

Photo by Eva Rinaldi, used under Creative Commons.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi, used under Creative Commons.

I suppose I’m late to this. All the opinions have been opined. All the commentaries are done. We’ve moved past you, on to Joan, and whoever is next and next and next. There’s always another tragedy waiting to happen.

But I’m still stuck on you, because you scare me. You scare me because you were/are/always will be 63. 63 is a ways off for me – and because it is a ways off, I can hold it as a beacon. A beacon that glows with the possibility that time will mend me.

You see, I have clinical depression. I’ve had it since childhood. I have it right now, though I am well enough to write so it is in the ebb of ebb and flow.

Still, when it is bad I whisper to myself that better times are always coming. As I am older, it gets easier. It will keep getting easier. I will be more happy and more well because time heals all…

I remember a joke I read as a kid: Time wounds all heels.

And god, I feel like a heel.

I mean, I’ve never met you. I don’t know you. But like my friends on wheels who followed Christopher Reeve and my ASD friends who fangirl/boy out for Temple Grandin, I felt connected to you. You were someone like me, out in the world, making good. Your sorrow was a base, but what you built from it was brilliant and silly and clever. (Also, I watched that scene in Good Will Hunting where you told Will it wasn’t his fault over and over because hey, if I could only hear it from a film, it was better than hearing it nowhere.)

I felt like this when Spalding Gray died. I feel like this whenever one of us exits. Like a small piece of the hope/lie is eked away. Like it’s been chiseled from my structure. I fall apart a little.

So yeah, I miss you. I miss the survival I saw in you. I miss that little bit of hope.

I’m sorry depression had more stamina than you. I’m sorry that you had to go.