Confessions of a girl in transition

I don’t know much about fung shui, and I’m not an interior decorator by any means, but I do think I have good taste when it comes to general aesthetics, clothes, style and colours (especially lipstick!). I must say, there is something to be said for creating a living space that is conducive to health and happiness. I didn’t quite realize this until recently.

I’m in the process of moving. It’s exhilarating and thrilling but it’s also exhausting and overwhelming. I think these are totally typical emotions for anyone moving. I read a statistic recently that moving is just as stressful as death and divorce! Well, that makes a lot of sense.

image001

For me, this move is very important. I keep using the phrase “game changer” or “just the change I need” or “a very welcome change” and those are all true. Of course. But, it’s more than that for me. Without putting too fine a point on it, I think this move is both life-changing for me, and also life-saving.

As I’ve shared before, I’ve been struggling with depression and hypothyroidism. This is all new to me. But, like every challenge I have faced in my life, I’m tackling it head-on. Or, rather I’m doing my best to confront it and manage it. I’m very good at that. If you give me a challenge, I’m going to meet it head on and succeed. At least that’s always been my M.O.

I’m seeing my family doctor and am taking medication for my thyroid, as well as an anti-depressant. I’m seeing a therapist, and just recently began working with a naturopath to support my thyroid health, help with my headaches and migraines and basically help heal my body. This is all very positive, and I know it’s all helping. I’m feeling better, more like myself, I have more energy, I’m happier, and a little bit more in control of my life.

But, as with everything, there are ebbs and flows, and the stress of this move, the logistics of it, the timing of it, in addition to all the organizational changes going on at work right now, the fact that I’ve been hemorrhaging money lately and have been essentially a zombie, is wearing on me.

I was at my old place last night to clean and put out the 4,000 bags of garbage I had accumulated in purging. It was hot, it was the end of a long day, I didn’t want to go in the first place and I was headachy from the cleaning fumes.

I had a meltdown, guys. I cried, I maybe threw some things, I screamed and swore a little bit. I cursed my old landlord (f-ing bastard), I cursed the place itself, its bad energy, the shitty situation that I had allowed myself to endure for far too long. I cursed myself for being so blind to how sick I’ve been, how long I had been living in darkness and didn’t realize it. I know that sounds impossible, like how could a person be so unhappy, so unhealthy, so outside of themselves and not realize it? That’s depression. I guess. I’m learning too.

There was a point when I just didn’t want to go on. I sat down in my chair in my old, dusty, bleak living room, and just wept. I just wanted to transport myself to my new place, I wanted to go home. But even that is up in the air because there’s a problem with the lease and the property management company that I’m still working through. I’m in a state of limbo, I’m not settled, I can’t quite get my bearings. I’ve had two migraines in the last two weeks. That is unusual. I mean, I’ve always suffered migraines and headaches, but they’re usually not that frequent. I think it’s the stress.

So, this week has not been stellar. I can feel myself slipping. But I don’t want to! I want to continue to feel better and make progress. I also want everything with my lease to be settled and finally, fully move into my new, beautiful, spacious, light-filled, clean and stylish apartment. But, we can’t always get what we want, right?

Over the course of this week, I’ve been slowly chipping away at emptying boxes and finding a home for all my belongings in my new place. Josh and James were over on Sunday and they put my new bookshelves together for me. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising because I’m a book nerd, but as soon as those babies were up, and I started to unearth my books from their boxes, I felt a wave of comfort. I’ve been taking my time filling the shelves with all my book-babies, carefully arranging and rearranging them, making it just so. Last night when I finally got home and after I had a hot shower to rinse off the day, I sat in my new chair and just looked at my glorious books, nestled in their new cases, and I felt calm.

Ebbs and flows, ebbs and flows.

An incident, an epiphany, and a lesson

When I woke up this morning, I was in a good mood. This is significant because I haven’t felt that way in a long, long time. I had an early meeting, so I jumped on the call from home, and then finished getting ready for work. I was having a good hair day, I loved my outfit, I was wearing a new necklace which I’m quite in love with. In short, I was feeling myself. And I can’t underscore this enough, I was feeling good mostly because feeling good has been somewhat unfamiliar to me lately.

And then it happened. I got on the streetcar, as I do every day, and within minutes, found myself the target of someone’s wrath. I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect this young man was mentally ill, high, or both. He was clearly disturbed and muttering profanities under his breath, until he caught my eye, and proceeded to direct all that anger and nastiness to me, specifically. He came near me, stood quite close to me and started hurling every imaginable insult you could think of at me. He told me I was a slut, a disgusting fat hoe, a whore, a bitch, a cunt, and that I should get raped.

He kept banging on the streetcar pole I was hanging on to and towering over me. I just stood there, trying not to make eye contact, reminding myself not to engage because who knows what could happen and I didn’t want to escalate the situation. It didn’t take long for people around us to notice what was happening and intervene. Thank goodness. Someone told the streetcar driver and he stopped the streetcar and got the man off without incident. I stood there, stunned and humiliated, crying.

I know, rationally, that that had nothing to do with me. I just happened to be the target of his rage, and it quite literally could have been anyone else on that streetcar this morning. But, I can’t help it, I’m human, and maybe a little extra delicate these days, and I felt utterly mortified, shaken, defeated and beaten down.

I got to work, said my usual “good mornings” and when my colleagues asked me how I was, I looked at them and started crying again, recounting the story. They were wonderful and supportive, reminding me that it had nothing to do with me, and that I did the right thing by not trying to talk back to him, etc.

It did make me feel better, but man alive! What’s that saying? Two steps forward, one step back? That’s how it feels. I went to the bathroom to collect myself and try to reset for the day, and as I was looking in the mirror, I began to think that perhaps my hair didn’t really look as good as I had first thought, that my outfit is cute, but I wished I’d worn a different bra with this shirt, and that I should have shaved my legs today. I was allowing those dark and insidious feelings of failure and of not being good enough creep back into the well-worn pathways in my brain, undoing a lot of the work I’ve done to change those pathways over the last few months. And as I was staring at my reflection, mentally dressing myself down, I stopped myself. I stopped myself because I can’t let the randomness of that person’s rage (or illness) get to me. He didn’t care about (or even know) what he was saying to me, so why should I let it hold such importance to me?

In an effort to remain productive all day and, admittedly, distract myself from this morning’s events, I started to clean out folders on my desktop. In doing so, I stumbled upon something I had written to myself (I do this a lot, not sure if I’m alone in that) last year when I ran into an ex who had seemingly moved on with his life and is now married, with a baby. I guess I was feeling down about that. Here’s what I wrote to myself:

When you see or talk to someone who was in your life for a time, and you see that their life has changed, or moved in a certain way, by comparison, it can feel like you’ve been standing still.

But, that’s just perspective. And one’s life moving or changing in a certain way, during a certain period of time, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s positive or a move forward.

We have no idea what really goes on in people’s lives, you know? And comparison, while sometimes hard (or impossible) to resist, really isn’t very productive or healthy.

If it makes you stop and think for a minute about your own life and maybe evaluate certain aspects of it, that can be a wonderful thing. But, when we let it get us down, it becomes poison. I think it’s better to look inward and tally up all the great things I love about my life and be in the moment to appreciate that I am where I’m supposed to be.

Sounds a little Oprahesque, (she’s my girl though!), but I truly believe it. And I just wanted to share my thoughts with you to maybe, perhaps, just a little, steer you to more positive, encouraging and empowering thoughts about yourself and your life.

Obviously, they are completely different situations, but I think I was on to something. Reject the poisonous thoughts, embrace what’s good about you, and be thankful to be where you are in your life seem to be pretty solid rules to live by. And worth remembering when you’re randomly harassed on public transit.

f0782cdb581b028ca93d2446f47475d8
As my dad always says: smile, sunshine’s good for your teeth!

The cult of busy

How many times a week do you find yourself responding to the question “How are you?” with “Good! Busy, but good!”

For me, it’s almost every single time I’m asked the question. And it’s not that it’s my automatic, rote response. I am being sincere when I exclaim (or sometimes just state, matter-of-factly), that I am, indeed, a very busy person.

But, what does that mean exactly? Busy compared to what? Or whom? Isn’t it all kind of relative anyway? I wonder if the feeling of being busy is actually just a symptom of poor time management. I also wonder if we, as a culture, conflate activity and productivity? If we’re constantly doing things, filling our time with doing, even if we’re not accomplishing anything, can we call that busy?

busy

Here’s the thing; somewhere along the way (I’m not sure when or how, but it’s been a progressive evolution), people have gradually lost time in their days. Days aren’t shorter, the last time I checked, there’s still 24 hours in each one. I think the loss, or feeling loss of time is partly that we work longer hours, we have longer commutes, we drive our kids everywhere, and go further afield as we navigate urban sprawl to get places. We pack our kids’ weeks with lessons and classes and play dates and birthday parties (which all, inexplicably to me, must be chaperoned by a parent), and spend an inordinate amount of time in the car, shuffling children to and fro.

For singles, especially in a big metropolis with lots to offer, we fill our time with work, undoubtedly, which often bleeds into our social lives – I have so many work friends! We log volunteer hours (which is a worthy use of time, in my opinion) and go on dates (for some of us, that takes up the time of – and feels as arduous as – a second job). And more to the point, we join groups, we chair committees, we write blogs (ha!), we plan weekend getaways with friends, and we go to events.

The point is, my friends, not that we fill our time with these wonderful, varied and worthy things which amount to us being busy, but that somewhere along the way, being busy itself became an accomplishment, a badge of honour, a bragging right, something of which to be proud, and to which to aspire.

That’s the thing I’m interested in – I don’t really care how you fill your time outside of your core life responsibilities, I just hope everyone is happy exploring the things and endeavors which sustain them and bring them joy. I’m interested in the psychology behind why we, as a whole, seem compelled to let everyone know how busy we are. It’s become a stick by which to measure our worthiness, I think. It’s subtle, and mostly subconscious, but it’s pervasive. It’s like we’ve all collectively agreed that we’re in a competition and whoever is the busiest gets the prize.

And I’m certainly guilty of it. Maybe it comes from a deep, dark place where my insecurities live, and I imbue all the things I do, the ways in which I like to keep busy, with (perhaps) undue importance, to subconsciously compensate for the fact that I don’t have a family (of my own) to keep me busy. I’ve never really thought about it in those terms before. Hmmm, methinks I might be on to something…

Or not. I mean, I’ve always been this way. I’ve always been a joiner, a doer. I like being a part of things, I like exploring parts of myself through social interactions, volunteering and educational pursuits, and I’m not particularly fond of routine. My mom always tells me “you’d be bored if you weren’t busy” and she’s probably right. And boredom, for me, as it turns out is perilous to my mental health. I know that now. My mom is always worried that I’m burning the candle at both ends though, and she signs off almost every conversation we have on the phone by telling me to eat something, go to bed early and not to work too hard. I love it, it’s endearing, because what she’s really saying is “I love you,” so I always answer, “yes mom, I will, you’re right I should, and I’ll try not to.”

I don’t think I’m going to stop keeping myself busy. It’s just who I am, and what fuels me and brings me joy. I think I will, however, try to be a bit more conscious of how much of my worth I’m gleaning from how busy I am. When people ask me how I am, I’m going to start answering the question a bit more genuinely, and resist the urge to declare with pride all the things I have going on in my life, because that’s not really an answer, is it?

I’m off to New York City tomorrow for a few days to sing at Carnegie Hall with my choir. I’m very excited. A few of my best friends are coming along for the trip (and to support me, of course), and we have some touristy things planned. But, I’m going to focus on enjoying myself, being in the moment, and relishing this once in a lifetime opportunity to sing on that stage under the baton of John Rutter. I’m going to slow down, take it all in, and not for one second, worry about how many things I can pack into the days I’ll be there. I don’t want this trip to be a whirlwind, I want to savour it, and for once in my life, not be busy.

Back from the dead

Of course, I wasn’t actually dead. I just felt like I was. Which seems quite hyperbolic as I write it now, but if we’re being metaphorical, (and we are because obviously I don’t know what it feels like to be dead) because I’ve never been dead before (or have I? Who knows!?!), I would liken what I’ve been experiencing lately to what I imagine feels like coming back from the dead.

Depression is no joke. We talk all the time about working to erase the stigma of mental illness, and I suppose that’s what my underlying intention is here, because this certainly isn’t easy for me to share. But it’s necessary, I think. The truth is, guys, that I’ve been struggling lately. A lot. In a way that I’ve never struggled before, which is saying a lot, because I’ve been through some shit.

I’m not sure when this all started, but I suspect that it’s been lying in wait for quite some time. My doctor suggests that it was actually a series of triggers that for whatever reason, as I experienced them in succession, resulted in severe depression. I’ve also learned that my depression is exacerbated by my newly-discovered Hypothyroidism. Or it was the Hypothyroidism that incited the depression. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, really, and I don’t think we’ll ever really know for certain. So, there’s a lot going on, a lot to unpack, and it’s really just the beginning.

6157935293_5318232873_zYou know that saying “you must know the darkness before you can appreciate the light” (or something like that)? That’s the kind of…awakening I’ve been experiencing lately. Now that I’m taking medication and seeing a therapist and working on my self-care, I’m beginning to feel much better. But, the surprising thing is that I didn’t know how crappy I was feeling until I started to feel better. I was buried so deeply in the darkness that I didn’t even realize it until I started to see some light trickle in. That’s the thing about depression, it sneaks up on you.

I can feel a boost in my energy, although I’m still struggling with fatigue and exhaustion. But, it’s getting better. I’ve noticed that my legs and feet don’t hurt as much as they used to, I’m not as stiff and inflexible as I was, and it doesn’t hurt as much to go up and down stairs. I’m laughing more, I’m not canceling plans as often as I was to just stay home on my couch. I’m slowly becoming more engaged with my life again. I can feel that I’m able to focus more, my memory is better, I’m less distracted. It’s like I’ve been living in a fog for the last couple of years (if I’m being honest) but had no idea. Depression just seeped into my life, like the insidious disruptor that it is, and I was oblivious. Until I wasn’t.

I’m lucky though. I’m lucky that I had a specific incident that made me realize something was really wrong. If that hadn’t happened, who knows how much longer I would have continued to numbly stumble through my life, thinking everything was my fault and shortcoming, until something very terrible happened?

I’m lucky that I’m a grown woman with well-developed and solid life skills to manage myself through this. Once I realized that something was very wrong with me, I made an appointment with my doctor and sought counseling. If I was younger, or perhaps just a different, less experienced person, I’m not sure I would have made those decisions so quickly and easily. If I was a person who was caught up in the stigma of mental illness, I might have tried to hide what I was experiencing. And if I hadn’t gone to the doctor and suggested to her that I get blood work done just to rule anything out, I would never have known that my Thyroid was practically non-functioning and making me ill.

I’m lucky that I work for a company with excellent benefits across the board, but particularly for mental health. Whether I could afford medication or therapy didn’t even cross my mind. All I had to worry about was getting the help I need.

And I’m lucky because I have wonderful friends. I mean really, truly the best. If I have ever doubted for even a second (which I thankfully never have) that my friends love me and want the best for me, this ordeal has only cemented for me the knowledge that I have surrounded myself with the most caring, loving and supportive friends a girl could ask for. And ditto for my family, boss and colleagues.

I’m clawing my way out of this. I want to feel better, I don’t want to live in a foggy, hazy world where everything is distorted through a grim, hopeless lens. I want to emerge from the dark and not only find the light again, I want to be the light again. I was, once. I think I can get back there. I just have to continue to ask for help, focus on self-care and health, and remember that there are others who aren’t as lucky as I am. There are lots of people who live in darkness every day, struggling to let the light trickle in.

Be kind to one another, be the light.

Friday night lights

140912-vintagefootball-stockSome of my fondest memories from my childhood are of chilly Fall Saturday mornings tagging along with my dad to the Kinsman Minor Football League (KMFL) games at Thomas A. Stewart high school in my home town, Peterborough. Dad would ask me (and whichever siblings who also wanted to join him) repeatedly the night before if I was sure I wanted to go. It was going to be an early morning, it would be cold, and we’d be there all day, he’d warn. But, of course I wanted to go (although, full disclosure, I’m not entirely sure why, because I don’t exactly have a deep and abiding love for football – sorry Dad!). But sure enough, Saturday morning would roll around, and I’d drag myself out of bed in the dark hours of the morning, eager to get to the field. If we were really good (and we had time), Dad would take us to McDonald’s for pancakes. I can still remember the lingering smell of the syrup that would invariably soak into my mittens.

I inevitably had a blast at the football games, regardless of how much attention I paid to the actual action on the field. The point was I was with my dad (and usually at least one or two of my siblings), watching him do something he loved. Of course, what I couldn’t fully appreciate then, nor would I really, until I was an adult, is that what I was witnessing on those cold Saturday mornings wasn’t just some volunteer obligation that my dad was fulfilling, but a wholly encompassing enterprise that my dad had helped build: the manifestation of a lifetime of hard work, yes, but more importantly, passion.

My dad is to football in Peterborough what the Lift Locks or the Kawartha Lakes, or historic downtown Peterborough is to Peterborough. That is to say, the existence of what we now know and understand minor and rep football in Peterborough to be, would simply not exist without Jerry Peters.

dad
Big Jer

To know my dad is to know his story. He’s been written about, profiled, and celebrated in the Peterborough sports scene for the almost – 4 decades he’s lived there. Anyone who has come up in the minor football league or played high school ball, or coached or had a kid/brother/cousin/friend/rival who has played football in Peterborough knows who my dad is. And they probably smile at the mention of “Mr. Football.”

To say that Jerry Peters lives and breathes football would be an understatement. I mean it, I’m not being hyperbolic! From his roots as a kid in his home town of Madeira, Ohio, my dad grew up with a football in his hands, literally and figuratively. He started playing as a boy of about seven or eight years old in his local minor football league. It was there, in those early years where he learned the fundamentals of the game, but also the basic tenants of sportsmanship and teamwork and camaraderie. His love for the game was instilled in him as a young boy, and it only grew and flourished as he did.

He played, of course, his whole young life, through middle and high school (where he was the captain), and ultimately won a full scholarship to play for Marietta University in Ohio. He went on to become a high school teacher and venerated coach. Football was his primary coaching job, of course, but he also coached basketball, baseball and wrestling. Dad is a sportsman in the truest sense of the word. He loves all sport, but football has always been the star. All those clichés of what we see depicted in movies about high school and college ball in a small town, both as a player and a coach? That was real life for him. My mom tells stories of how she would bundle my sisters and I up and take us to the games on Friday nights because you couldn’t get a babysitter even if you tried – the whole town was at the game. True story: my dad was, for real, in the middle of teaching a Health class when the school secretary called over the P.A. to tell him that my mom was in labour with me. I was born on a Thursday afternoon in September, so he had to miss that day’s practice, but he made it to the game the next day. They lost. He (jokingly) reminds me of this often.

It’s a life that he has felt impelled to share with others – and frankly, we’re all better for it. Dad’s passion for the game of football is unmatched. But, it’s not just the game that he’s so passionate about, it’s the desire to work with kids and to instill in them the importance and value of sport. My dad’s original vision for the KMFL was to provide an opportunity for young kids to learn the fundamentals of football, sure, but more broadly, to provide a framework for kids to tap into their passions, to feel like they belong, to develop their social and communication skills, their sense of compassion, their ability to follow direction, to be respectful and hopefully, to foster a love for the game too; a love that they just might carry with them throughout their lives. I personally think he’s achieved that.

You needn’t look further than the KMFL summer camp, an institution successfully funneling kids into Peterborough football since 1991. It’s worth mentioning that that camp is 100% volunteer-run. The fact that year after year, former players, fellow coaches, sons and daughters, people who have worked with my dad, or simply been in his orbit in some way, are willing to devote their precious volunteer hours to help make the camp run, is a true testament to the impact Jerry Peters has on the people and community he touches. He says “let’s have a football camp” and they say “tell me where to sign up.” It’s that simple.

And he’s still at it! My retired, 76-year-old dad is more active than ever in football. He’s the mastermind behind the Peterborough Wolverines, an organization that is perhaps the most respected in the Ontario Football Conference (OFC). He’s a VP on their executive committee and a co-General Manager of the Peterborough teams, not to mention the revered “Father” of the program. And he loves it.

The only thing that can light my dad up just as much as his family, is football. And even though we’ve heard his stories quite literally hundreds of times (and I’m not exaggerating), when my dad gets going down memory lane and talks about his playing and early coaching years, we lap it up. It’s quite something to grow up with a person like that as a model of what it’s like to live in your passions and to dedicate your life to something you love.

As one of his kids, I’ve had the unique opportunity to see how this man works from the inside. I’ve listened to him talk with endless enthusiasm about the games, the kids, and the coaches. I’ve overheard him talking to parents on the phone, answering questions but also, in some cases, providing comfort, or guidance or simply reassurance that their kid is in good hands. I’ve seen the countless hours he’s spent at the dining room table, poring over playbooks, rosters, emails, project plans and logistics. I’ve even caught him on more than a few occasions, sitting at that very table, staring off into space, his mind whirling, undoubtedly thinking up his next move, his next inspired idea to advance the state of football in his community.

And, I’ve also been there with him on those chilly, Fall Saturday mornings, heading to the football field, ready to realize a vision, to exercise a passion, and, of course, to play some ball.

On the strangeness of death

My BFF Becky is the best. And one of the (many) reasons that she’s the best is that she has this knack for saying really adorably dorky things that delight me beyond measure. Or, more accurately, she says things in an adorably dorky way which are actually goddamn truth bombs.

A few weeks ago, when she was at my place as we were getting ready  for a Christmas party we were headed to, out of nowhere, apropos of nothing, she said to me “you know, it’s really strange when people die,” to which, the words barley out of her mouth, we both burst into a fit of uncontainable laughter. Perhaps the hilarity of the moment is lost on the page here, or you would have to know Becky or understand our friendship and bond in order to appreciate how funny this statement was. Trust me, it was hilarious. She went on to explain, after we had collected ourselves, that what she meant was that, when you really think about it, when someone in your life dies, objectively, it’s a strange thing. One day they’re there, and the next, they’re just…not anymore. It’s a weird thing to wrap your head around. See? Truth bomb. Because, of course, your life goes on, as do the lives of everyone else in that person’s life. Just without them. We adjust, we cope and our lives take a slightly different shape without that person in them. But it goes on.

Death is the one thing that every single person on earth has in common. We are all going to die. There’s no way around it, there is no magical fountain of youth. Immorality isn’t real, and we will all die. I will die. One day. And for most of us, (thankfully, in my opinion) we have no idea when that day will come.

When a family member or loved one dies, we sort of know how to feel. Not that the feelings we feel aren’t authentic, I don’t mean that at all. What I mean is that culturally, there are staid truths and expected (and accepted) behaviours when we lose someone so close to us, so integral to our existence. What’s a little less clear, in terms of expected behaviour, is when someone in our lives dies who doesn’t fall into that succinct category of “loved one.” They are the people on the periphery of our lives; in our orbit, people we have or have had real relationships with, but whose emotional connection to us kind of defies definition.

Grief

When I found out that an ex-boyfriend of mine had died just over a year ago, it was a strange thing to comprehend and to process. Because when I say “boyfriend” that’s not really accurate. We dated off and on over the course of a few years. We spent time together, we shared intimacy (mostly of a physical nature, but some real emotional intimacy as well), but we weren’t really a part of each other’s lives, outside of each other; what we shared was private. So, when I found out that he had died suddenly, I had all kinds of feelings, sadness, shock and disbelief chief among them. But then I felt confused about what I was supposed to be feeling and how I should be acting. I spiraled into an emotional state where I was feeling great loss and heartache for this man with whom I had shared so much, but simultaneous guilt and self-consciousness for feeling so strongly about the death of a person who I hadn’t even spoken to in a year and half. In the end, I decided that whatever I was feeling was okay, because they were my feelings, and regardless of what our relationship was in life, in the end, he meant something to me, and so whatever my grief looked like, it was okay. But it took me a while to come to that.

This week, I learned of the death of a colleague. She was someone I have known for close to ten years, and someone with whom I worked very closely for four and a half of those years. She was someone I talked to every day, someone I laughed with, commiserated with, shared inside jokes with, sought advice from, and at times, gleaned tremendous comfort. She asked me thoughtful questions about my life and really listened to me when I was dealing with challenges, offering her perspective and most importantly, her support. Aside from the occasional team lunch, or holiday staff party though, she was someone I didn’t interact with outside of work. I didn’t really know much about her personal life, except that she loved her family fiercely, she was funny, (especially when she wasn’t trying to be), she had a pretty rad shoe collection and loved to give me dating advise. I also know that her smile would light up a room, she took things in stride and was deeply and widely loved around our office.

Colleagues take up an interesting space in our lives. They aren’t our family or loved ones, and in most cases, they aren’t what we would consider our “close friends,” but in a lot of ways, they are more a part of our everyday lives and routines and realities than our family and friends are. They see a side of us that others in our lives don’t necessarily get to, and if you’re lucky, they provide an emotional connection not found in other relationships.

Eventually, her desk will be cleaned out, its contents dispersed and purged and the personal effects sent to her family. Her role will be filled (or not) and work-life will, for all intents and purposes, go on. But, there will always be a hole where she left us.

That is the strangeness of death. One day a person is here, in your life, occupying a specific, and often important space, and the next, they’re gone. Just not there anymore. I think the important thing is to recognize that they meant something to us, to grieve in whatever way seems right to us individually, and carry their spirit with us.

Andrew, I think of you often, and when I experience those moments when, for a split second, I think I see you walking towards me on the sidewalk, or I randomly conjure in my mind’s eye a certain look you would give me when I would say something clever or cute, or I feel your phantom body (all 6’5″ of it) beside me in my bed when I’m in that semi-conscious, not quite asleep, not quite awake, dream-like state, I remember what you meant to me. And I smile.

Sharon, I will miss you, and as I try to get used to the strangeness of your absence, I’ll try to carry your spirit with me, and remember that you meant something to me. And that means something.

Silent all these years

“Okay, Ms. Peters, we’re almost done here. Are you doing alright? We just have a couple more questions for you. Okay, so…what were you wearing that night?”

I had just finished telling my account to the two detectives from the Sex Crimes division, after having already recounted it at least two other times to different detectives. In the moment, I answered the question directly despite the chill that went through me when it was asked. I knew, as well as any reasonable person knows, that what I was wearing had nothing to do with my attacker’s decision to prey on me. I could have been stark naked, or wrapped in a burkini, zipped into a parka, and it wouldn’t have made a damn difference. I also knew that the detectives were just doing their job and it was probably a mandatory question. Perhaps they were acutely aware that asking that question in particular only perpetuated the rape culture that leads to these kinds of interviews in the first place, and they hated asking it as much as I was insulted and humiliated to have to answer it. I would like to think, anyway, that the two women sitting across the table from me, recording our interview, speaking in soft and reassuring tones, knew that asking me that question was bullshit. But, they did. And so I answered.

After my long day (I lost count of the hours I was actually at the police station), the two kind detectives offered to drive me home so I wouldn’t have to take the subway. As I hopped out of the backseat with their cards in my hand, I felt like I was floating. I was outside of myself. I was two Anges, one walking and talking and thinking about what comes next, and the other, a hanging, exposed nerve grappling with what had transpired over the last 48 hours.

I vacillated between knowing that I was doing the right thing by going to the police and feeling subsumed by shame because, of course, it was all my fault.

It was my fault for being drunk, for losing my purse with my house keys and phone in it. It was my fault for getting in the cab and not recognizing it as a red flag when the driver suggested he drive me to the hotel at the end of the street. After all, it seemed like a good solution. I was locked out of my apartment with no phone. It was 3 am. I had nowhere to go, and I couldn’t call anyone even if I wanted to (and I really, really wanted to) because I didn’t know anyone’s phone numbers, because they were all in my phone, which was in my missing purse and people don’t memorize phone numbers the way we used to. The cab driver was just being a nice, concerned citizen trying to help out a hysterical young woman in a shitty situation. He was being nice, right?

And it was definitely my fault for thinking that the cab driver was just concerned about my well-being when he insisted on walking me into the hotel to make sure I got a room and would be safe for the night. And so it had to be my fault that after walking me to the room, when I thanked him for his kindness, he forced his way in, slamming me up against the wall, kissing and groping me, grabbing at my body and trying to take my clothes off. So, it must have been my fault that with every “No!” and “Stop!” and “GET OFF OF ME!” I shouted, with every push and shove I could muster to get this man to stop touching me, he was confused and took that to mean that I was totally into it. Because, after all, he’d been so nice to me, so I knew this was going to happen. Right? I was asking for it. Right? I owed him this much, didn’t I?

To say that I never thought I would be in this position, that I would never be this person (whatever that means) is sort of an absurd thing to say, really. I mean, if I counted up the instances in my life when a man had exerted his power over me, well, it felt sort of inevitable in a way.

But, I was a grown woman, in my early thirties, a strong independent feminist and I wasn’t going to be shamed into keeping this to myself, into not reporting it. I wasn’t going to be a statistic. I wasn’t going to be silenced.

So, (after some convincing from my best friend, I’ll admit), I went to the police and filed a report. I told my story and was therefore on the record. There was an investigation. I couldn’t be sure of the cab company though, because well, I was drunk, and very upset (finding yourself locked out of your apartment in the middle of the night, with no phone is upsetting). I did not take note of the driver’s ID badge or cab number from the back seat and I only had a fuzzy recollection of his face. Because he was being so “kind” to me, he didn’t turn on the meter when he drove me to the hotel, so there was no record of the cab ride. There was surveillance footage from outside of the hotel, which showed him parking and walking with me inside the hotel,  but the cab itself wasn’t really visible, so it wasn’t clear which cab company it was and you couldn’t see the license plate. And the footage from inside the hotel didn’t show his face.

So, nothing happened. No charges, no trial, no consequences for the cab driver.

But, can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone? I was relieved. As much as I wanted this man to face the consequences of his actions, I was relieved that it was over for me. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to be interviewed anymore, or asked uncomfortable questions about what I was wearing and how much I’d had to drink. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to sit in a courtroom and answer questions about decisions I made that night, both before and after the attack. I was relieved that I wouldn’t be judged publicly by strangers and lawyers (because I was already being judged by some of my friends at the time and that was hard enough).

Why did you wait a day to go to police? Why didn’t you alert the hotel staff immediately? Why did you wash your clothes and take a shower at your friend’s place the next day? Why didn’t you get the driver to take you to a friend’s house instead of the hotel in the first place? Why did you trust the cab driver to be a decent human being?

WHY DIDN’T YOU BEHAVE THE WAY WE EXPECT VICTIMS TO BEHAVE?

That’s the real crux of the issue, isn’t it? And it’s an argument that is well-worn and futile; since forever, the burden of accountability has been framed around the way victims react during and after harassment and assault, a bar set so high that few victims can meet it. There is no one way for a victim to behave after being assaulted. The problem is that people, whether they know it or not, have a really rigid idea of what they deem as acceptable behaviour after an assault, and even more damning, they apply their own logic to a situation that a) doesn’t involve them and b) is completely illogical.

The truth is, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I knew that this was another insidious instance of a man exerting his power over someone. The truth is that this man, like so many others, preyed upon me because I was vulnerable, I was the wounded gazelle in the herd, an easy target. He, like so many others, learned or somehow internalized that women’s bodies are his for the taking, his for the touching, his for the groping, his for the violating.

And the thing is this kind of thing isn’t just limited to encounters with strange cab drivers in the dark of night. This happens, actually, more commonly with men who are already in our lives. They’re our boyfriends, our friends, our dates, our bosses, our colleagues. I’ve talked a lot about the notion of the “implicit contract” in dating that I’ve experienced over and over; this idea that some men feel they are owed something in their interactions with the women they date. It’s a subtle but pervasive mind-f-ck that I have experienced more times than I care to admit. I have found myself having to say “no, stop it, get off of me,” physically pushing and shoving a giant man off of my body at least a few times in my dating life.

There was even one time after I narrowly escaped unwanted sex, that the guy, who was at my place, told me that he had to stay over because I let him drink too much wine with dinner, and I wouldn’t want to make him drive drunk, now would I? I was scared. The man had forced himself on me, he was a little drunk, he was big and strong and I felt like if I kicked him out and told him that I didn’t care how he got home, something worse might have happened to me. I told you, it’s a pervasive mind-f-ck.

Is that the price I must pay to date?

Listen, I don’t have a lot of pride in telling you this. Looking back, I feel a great deal of shame that I let that guy manipulate me like that. I did let him sleep at my place that night. Don’t get me wrong, I felt shame in the moment too. But, I also felt trapped. Here was this man, a man who earlier that night, I was totally into. We had a great date, I was enjoying his company, he was interesting and gentlemanly, we were very attracted to each other and he was definitely piquing my interest. So much so that I invited him into my home to continue hanging out. And when kissing turned into groping, and that groping led to undressing, and then with his hands and fingers and penis being shoved forcefully into places I didn’t want them, and him on top of me, pinning me to the couch, penetrating me, I said no. Over and over, I said no, and I pushed and squirmed and wriggled and I managed to stop what was happening.

I said no.

And yet.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Hollywood’s matrix of power is finally being exposed. And while Hollywood as a system stands as a sort of allegoric example of other workplaces and environments, don’t think for one second that it’s not emblematic of a greater social construct.

What we’re learning about Hollywood now is exactly the kind of thing that happens everywhere else. This isn’t just a Hollywood-specific problem; this is a problem that underpins everything. This scandal being exposed is (hopefully) providing the impetus for the cultural shift we need to reveal the kind of sexual predation that happens every day in the lives of women and men everywhere.

The trolls are trying to wail above all the noise, crying the usual victim-blaming nonsense that has kept us all silent all this time. But maybe the Weinstein scandal and the ensuing crumbling of the Hollywood power matrix is just the crack in the shell we needed.

We’re in a moment where the topic has risen sharply, and change seems possible. But I worry it will die away again in the endless ebb of our news cycle. Remember Jerry Sandusky? Nate Parker? Woody Allen? Roman Polanski? Casey Affleck? Bill Cosby? Brock Turner? Donald f-cking Trump!?!?

We need to talk about sexual predation, about sexual assault and rape. Period. We need to believe victims, stop blaming them, and hold predators accountable. But most of all, we need to dismantle the systems and the ideologies that created and uphold this environment in the first place. We need to eliminate the internalized sense of entitlement some men feel towards other people’s bodies, and more importantly, the permission given, implicitly or otherwise, to act upon it.

We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.

rape stats