on scars and the transience of memory

I’m reading PAX this morning. I was laying on our adopted brown couch, on its chaise lounge protrusion, reading with my feet tucked into the cat’s underbelly for warmth. When she got up I stayed, until the rain started pelting so hard that it broke my concentration. I got up to look through the window, at the dense streams of rain coming down so hard they bounced back from the pavement in white flashes, like nails. When it rains this hard, our sloped street looks like a rushing creek, the bands of water so deep that they reach to mid-sole level of a pair of regular sneakers. That’s as high as the Santa Ana river runs some days.

My writing mentor from the TWSO program says that she senses that there is a lot of great material to mine from my childhood experiences. I think she must mean the parts about growing up in an immigrant family. When I peer back through the telescope of memory, everything is tangled. The timeline is scarred together like layers of puckered muscle adhered into place onto organ, bone, where it was cross-sectioned, stuck together where it doesn’t belong.

The news since last week has been ripping away at one of these. The Jian Ghomeshi trial has brought up many things I wanted to let rest in the darkness where I’d buried them. I realize now that this exhumation initially began when women started coming out of the woodwork of his past, infiltrating the news with their experiences.

How muddled things become with the passage of time. A lived experience that some of us have denied even ourselves the whole truth about, the details so humiliating that we want to disown them. The ones that made us fear for our lives – the too tight grip, the punches that left no marks, the switchblade that was unsheathed with the push of a thumb on a button – those are embedded with crystal clarity. The rest – how we got into the predicament, how we became compliant, before or after, just so that we can retain some sense of a normal that over the course of our lives has become skewed – those things we push away into forgetfulness. A normal that we have come to accept but that is far from what the definition of it actually means. We want to disown this dissonance.

I stood trial for the “event” – I say this only mildly facetiously, because though I was a witness, I was treated like a defendant, attempting to defend an honour that was up to the most vicious scrutiny – that culminated in what would be a forced sexual act. I feared for my life. I complied. I walked away with only my winter coat and boots (because I grasped onto them as I locked myself into the tiny bathroom of the motel room to which he had brought me for what I thought was a transaction to obtain a gram of blow). I did what I did to stay alive. He took the little that was left of my self-esteem and every other material possession that I had walked into that room with, and left me with a threat to keep my silence.

I was already a bad girl, by societal norms. I smoked pot or hash daily, worked as a nude dancer in a club in a part of town that was considered less than savoury. I was nineteen and excruciatingly naive but thought I was the opposite. I was sheltered against most everything growing up, except for discipline. That was meted out with brutal regularity. It had softened the lines between love, pain, hate, respect. I wanted out from beneath the thumb that pushed down on me, that didn’t care to listen to who I was, didn’t want to understand me or find the best way to reach me across the chasm of culture and generation gap.

I left home on my eighteenth birthday to join an ashram, convinced that in Vedic philosophy I would find explanations. At this juncture, I just wanted to find a way to understand a world that made no sense to me – I was convinced I would find it there. I would leave half a year later to briefly return home and resume college in the fall. There I met the young man with whom I’d leave home a final time, just before my nineteenth birthday. With neither of us working and having a rent to pay, I took the only job I could find – I supported us both. This “career” lasted just short of a year, until that fateful day in early November when I made a poor choice and misjudged someone’s intentions.

This man who violated me, he had violated others before me and would do the same again, over and over, for decades to come. In and out of jail he’d go, for petty crimes and preying on women, always skillful enough to evade the worst penalties, copping lesser sentences for being an informant and a snitch. In a news article I read a few years back, I found out that he was deceased. In some small way, the invisible scar with his name on it finally felt clipped from its source. I read other articles about the havoc he wreaked over the years, one of them a trial that created a legal precedent in Canada. For the many times I’d wished him dead, I was glad that the universe had finally complied with my request.

As for me – no sense can be made of all of this. We can claim it is karma until the cows come home, but I don’t understand (even now) the vagaries of the universe, within the context of our small lives. We are insignificant, when we look at how vast the universe is, and yet each of our experiences is important in their own right. We are each important. We deserve respect, love and to not confuse those things with the pain some feel determined to inflict upon us in their guise.


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