This Is Why #MeToo

When the #MeToo movement broke a few weeks back, when women starting stepping up and telling their truths, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter exhaustion. It’s an exhaustion I’m familiar with, and that I’ve felt for a long time. I could have posted #MeToo many times over, and I even wanted to, but found I couldn’t. I actually felt physically ill and I simply couldn’t do it, though if you’d asked me why I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. Maybe it’s just that we women are so used to keeping other people’s dirty secrets, that it’s a really hard habit to break. I know it was really hard for a lot of women to make that hashtag and to post it, because to step up and say ‘Yes, this happened to me too,’ makes you feel like a bug exposed on a sheet of paper. We’re all very well acquainted with what happens to women who tell unpopular truths.

This morning though, as I see the pendulum start to swing the other way again, with too many people (oh so many of them women) saying ‘It’s ridiculous, it’s too much, this can’t have happened to this many women,’ I just found myself really really angry.  Well, sister, I’m here to tell you a hard truth—what you’ve seen in these last few weeks is the tip of the iceberg, it’s only the first wave in a tsunami of pain and darkness and terrible truths. If it hasn’t happened to you, count yourself blessed, but maybe be willing to listen to those who have gone through it. I don’t know all that many women who are unscathed by sexual harassment, abuse and violence.

So here’s my laundry list. And it’s by no means complete. And let me just say this up front—I’ve always been a pretty quiet soul, dressed fairly conservatively, just because I’m more comfortable that way and not because I stand in judgement of anyone who doesn’t. Women deserve to feel beautiful and to dress in whichever way makes them feel so.

-molested at the age of four by someone I should have been able to trust

-molested at the age of five by someone I should have been able to trust

-molested at the age of seven by someone I should have been able to trust

-at the age of nine my friend’s father killed her mother because she wouldn’t come back to him, then he killed himself and orphaned their children

-harassed at ten by a boy three years my senior, who was over six feet tall, while I weighed about 65 pounds at the time. I was terrified of this boy. He would corner me on the playground and put his hands down my shirt and up my skirt, etc. He was immensely stronger than me. I told a teacher, and was told to avoid him. At that age, I loved to swim—I mean I loved it with my whole self. It was my great joy to head to the pool every day in the summer after my chores were done. I was like a little seal and felt totally free in the water. I was a good, strong swimmer. But then that same boy started coming to the pool every afternoon too, and my time there became a nightmare. He’d undo the straps of my swimming top and try to pull down my bottoms under the water. He’d put his fingers inside my swimming bottoms. He almost drowned me one afternoon, which I remember with great vividness. I cannot tell you how terrified I was of this boy, I still can feel it in my chest talking about it now, forty years later. A lifeguard had to pull me out of the pool with a pole, as I vomited up water.

What finally stopped this boy, was another boy, his age and his size, saw what was happening in the pool one afternoon and came over and told him to stop or he’d beat the shit out of him. He waited for him outside the pool that afternoon, and told him if he ever saw him touching me again, he’d make sure he regretted it and then he walked me home. I never told my parents, because I had already internalized the idea that somehow, in some way, it was my fault. That I had done something to draw that attention, that apparently other girls weren’t doing. I know now though that other girls were keeping their secrets too. Odds were I didn’t have the language then to articulate what was happening to me—hell I was still playing with my barbies, and watching the ‘Donny and Marie’ show on Friday nights like it was a religion. There was no way to process what had been done to me, or to know I’d carry the fear with me into my life as an adult.

-at eleven I was followed home by a young man who lived on the other side of duplex a friend lived in. He followed me right into my yard, he’d actually run after me most of the way, because I was on a bike. To my horror my parents had gone out for a walk when I was gone, and I couldn’t get in the house. I did not know this person, and he was a good ten years older than me. I have no idea what he intended to do to me but he was about two feet away from me when my dog came around the corner and attacked him. My parents had arrived home in the nick of time. When my dad confronted him about what he was doing in our yard, he ran.

-at thirteen an older boy (he was eighteen) became obsessed with me. He would come swim at the lake where I lived, and where I swam after school. He was constantly rough housing me, picking me up and hurling me into the water, grabbing at my breasts etc. Again this boy was much older, and he was big and really strong. I weighed about one hundred lbs. soaking wet at this point. He took great pleasure in my fear and in my pleading with him to leave me alone. I stopped swimming after school. I hid from him. It’s what girls do, it’s what women do, we learn to behave like prey—we hide, we avoid, we make nice so that we won’t get hurt. The problem is we are hurting that entire time. The weight of all this crap is piling up on us year after year, incident by incident. And we internalize it all, because it’s too dangerous to tell the truth. We’ve been taught all our lives not to anger men, not to make a fuss, not to rock the boat. Be nice, look pretty and don’t ever ever get angry—because then you’re just one of those angry feminazi bitches.

-during all this time, I watched my cousin go through two abusive marriages, and took her to the hospital with burn marks, bruises around her throat and needing stitches in her face. All this done by a man who ‘loved’ her. And me knowing the entire time she would go back to him, and I felt quite certain, would eventually be killed by him. She wasn’t,but frankly that was a miracle.

– at seventeen I was chased across a walking bridge by a group of older boys threatening to find out if my pubic hair was the same colour as the hair on my head. I was terrified I was about to be raped. They stood behind me laughing after I managed to get off the bridge ahead of them. Why someone’s terror is so amusing to some people, I will never ever know.

-by eighteen I’d been called a whore, a slut, a cock tease, a bitch, etc. Most women have been called all those things, long before we’re even sexually active.

-at eighteen I was groped by a professor I’d gone to for hypnosis therapy. Extensively groped. I told a male friend and he said I must be imagining it (yeah, because every eighteen-year-old girl dreams of being groped by a man old enough to be her grandfather- literally in this case) but he liked the professor and insisted he was a good guy who would ‘never do such a thing’. I told a counsellor, and while she made it rather clear I wasn’t the first to complain, she also made it clear nothing would be done about it and maybe I should just not go to his office anymore, and you know, keep quiet about it too.

-at eighteen I was told by a man (ten years older than me) while I was stuck in a car with him, that he’d rape me if he thought he could get away with it. He also told me he could snap my neck without much effort. He could have too, he was big and also did enough drugs to be entirely unstable. I was completely terrified of him. He was related to me at the time through my cousin’s marriage. I never told anyone, because at that point, I no longer saw the point of telling people. They’d just tell me he’d never really do it, even if he’d said it. He was a good guy, don’t ya know.

-at eighteen I had a gun held to my head by a boy I thought I loved, because I had the nerve to break up with him. He said he’d rather I was dead if he couldn’t have me. I simply stood up, blank with utter panic and left the room, waiting to feel a bullet in my back or head. I made it out of that room, that house, that relationship, but I am all too aware that many girls and women don’t.

-in my 30s I was basically terrorized for some years by a neighbour. It got to the point where I told friends if I disappeared to tell the police to look in his back yard first. I said it jokingly but I meant it as well. My great sin? I’d talked back to him when he’d been rude and nasty to me one day when I was outside. He made my life a living hell until we finally sold our house and moved. Even then he showed up outside the new house we moved to that very first night. I talked to the police a few times, and they basically said I should avoid him if I could—which considering there was a driveway between us and nothing else, was a little difficult. After a conversation with his wife, during which she told me  that he’d gone on a rant after we put our house on the market, and told her he knew we couldn’t afford to move, and that I wasn’t going to escape him that way, I knew we had to go no matter what. Why he thought he knew what our finances were remains a mystery to me. I had made the mistake of angering him, and he really was determined to make me pay the price for that.

And then, of course, there are the every day things women know only too well—the men who tell you you’d be so much prettier if you’d just smile (I’ve never understood why some stranger thinks I should smile for them, so they can find me more attractive- that’s a real WTAF for me). The men who comment on your weight, your body, your face. The men who get really angry and abusive because you had the temerity to say no to them when they asked you out. For women, our bodies are public property from a very young age, and men of all ages feel free to make lewd and nasty comments from the minute we start to get breasts and hips, and suddenly that body which we took such joy in because it could run, and bike and swim and dance, is an embarrassment, becomes a tool for others to shame us and frighten us. We take all that inside and it becomes an unbearable weight. It becomes like a dark sludge you can’t ever quite wash away. And having said all of this, I am fully and starkly aware, that I have gotten off lightly compared to a lot of women. Women that I know and women that I don’t. So many women, who were once little girls who loved their bodies and all they could do with them.

When I said my list is nowhere near complete, I meant it. In truth you get so used to it as a female, that you don’t remember all of it because it would be too much to carry with you every day, everywhere. Because we know for the most part, people don’t want to hear it or will assume right out of the gate that we’re just another lying whore. If my language makes you uncomfortable, oh well, I’ve been called that a few times, and for no good reason other than saying no to a boy or a man. Because it’s not easy to say this shit—no one feels good about having this happen to them. We’ve all spent so much of our lives appeasing  angry males that it’s habit and self-preservation. And because I KNOW someone  is going to say it, I’ll save you the trouble, yes I know #notallmen and #ithappenstomentoo—there, you’re covered, you don’t need to say it, I said it for you.

So here’s me telling my truth. I don’t know if this will ease the weight I carry, or alleviate some of the exhaustion I’ve long felt around all of it. But hey, #MeToo.

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Of Golden Moons and Firelight

 

If a forest is a metaphor for the unknown, a drawing is the stroke-by-stroke journey through the unknown: a laying this in, a wiping that out, all the time watching for the image to take shape and lead you into its very specific story. The image begins to give itself to you; you follow it, you serve it. Hence the kinship of making and prayer manifests, with each evoking and shaping the other, creating images which walk right out of the emptiness which has contained them. – Meinrad Craighead

 

This is the season of retreat, of the turning in to spirit and to healing in the quiet and the long nights. This is the time I ebb away from the regular world into my interior space, that hut in the woods where the fire—smelling of the dark honey of peat—burns brightly through the long nights. This is the space into which I go as the Winter Crone breathes her frosted breath upon my windows, and knocks at my door with her ancient, wrinkled hands. By this fire I pick up my stitchery (not of the physical sort, I am without talent in that area) the knitting, crocheting, the sewing together of blocks to make a full quilt, decorated with pearls and ivy leaves, with barley sheaves and moonlight. Each stitch a word, a row a sentence, a block a paragraph, the end of a ball of wool—a scene entire. I feel like the characters draw close to the fire as well, sit down, and tell me their stories on a deeper level, threads of both black and gold, bright jewelled bits of detail scattered here and there. Pamela with a hot cup of tea and a shawl— because she is never warm in winter, Yevgena whose tea smells of plum brandy, and whose eyes could tell you the history of the world from before the first light. Jamie, quiet, reflective, but with a glimmer in his eyes which informs you that a wonderful tale is lurking in the near future. Casey with his hands in the air, as he describes something in detail—a house, a fairy tale castle, a cottage he repaired where an old woman lives hidden in the forest. And all around the sound of children breathing and dreaming in the depths of night and firelight.

In some ways a series is different than the construction of a single book. While there is still the unknown at the beginning of each segment, it’s more like one of those books with hollow pages, where with the turn of each leaf a little more of the final page—the full scene—is revealed. With this series I am nearing the end of that lovely book, turning the last few pages to see the full picture revealed. This book has a strange feel to it, both one of ending and beginning (still not entirely sure it’s the last book, but it’s the penultimate one at the very least). I’ve said before that each book is an element for me, and if spring was an element, that’s what this one would be. And then, of course, there is Yevgena’s story, which is truly a caravan traveling along a neverending and windy road—sometimes a brilliantly coloured road—all reds and purples and vivid greens, sometimes so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face, nor the traces of your spirit.

I always thought it would be wonderful to be a painter. My dad painted when I was little, and linseed oil is still one of my favourite scents in the whole world. I love how paint feels and the way it builds slowly, slowly into something so much bigger than its component parts. Writing is not so different though, one just uses words rather than paint to layer, to create detail, to make a world entire where one did not exist before. Finding those images which walk out of the emptiness, and people a landscape we didn’t know before.

In the winter I think it is natural for all creatures—including humans—to turn inward, to go underground as it were, to turn our faces from the busy, roaring world and find peace, find rest, find the fire that burns inside but needs quiet for its heat to be felt. This is the hearth upon which creative forces are built to last out the rest of the year. It is the season written in darkness and the ink of pearls, which shines with a luminous subtlety. We need slowness, thoughtfulness, meditation to see something both hidden and pale in its beauty.

This is the season when my book will go from pieces, chapters, chunks into something more streamlined—I know because I feel the exact bulk of where it is now at— and it will begin to actually resemble a cohesive book that someone will one day be able to read, and hopefully love. And so I will retreat, turn my face away, go underground and sit by the fire in that cottage in the forest, and find those images which walk out of emptiness, to people a world entire.

Sometimes it feels like all the magic is gone from the world, there is so much strife and pain that it’s easy to feel helpless and small in the presence of so much that is heartbreaking. I ask myself at times what I can do in the face of all this, and in truth there are a lot of small things I can do and one is to make a little escape for people, give them a refuge where they can hole up for a few days, before facing the world again. And some days, that is enough—to provide that escape.

Winter with her great frosted moons, her brilliance, her quiet, her utter stillness reminds me that there are old enchantments lurking at the edges of our vision, but we need to awaken them and bring them back full and breathing, so they can remind us that we are magic, that life itself is magic. It is a part of my job, to walk those edge places, be they hedgerow or heath, forest or tide line, and find the still, small enchantments that wait there, and make them into quilt blocks, and word paintings, travel-weary caravans and the conversation of friends around an ancient fire. It is a liminal space, both haunted and visceral, this territory of the storyteller.

The vardo was warm when I went back in, but I was chilled and got into the bed swiftly, relishing the rough linen of the blankets and the luxurious warmth of the quilt. I was tired but could not settle, and it seemed Zuza sensed my restlessness for she spoke then. 

   “Would you like me to tell you a story?” 

   “I’m not a baby,” I said, a little indignant, though there was part of me which longed for a story from this woman’s lips. 

   “Child, a body is never too old for a story. I love a story, if it is told right. Now, would you like a story?” 

cottage_in_the_woods_by_bellefoto-d4swy17

   When she began, her voice changed and became something other, like an ephemeral body with a foot in this world, and the other in the world of the tale. It was a trait I found in every gifted storyteller I ran across in my life, this ability to inhabit two places at once.’

Fr. The Long Road copyright 2017 Cindy Brandner