‘Not the kind who protest in the streets / But in the classroom.’

‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’ Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened.

Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened. And every year on this date, I am amazed at (and grateful for) how she managed to make less of a mess out of all the horrible things we feel about it.

After more than a decade of us pestering/crediting her every year, she has licensed their use through Creative Commons, so please share if they mean something to you.

14, As More Than Just a Number

by Anna Humphrey

For Genevieve Bergeron, 21
Because you bled one week of every month.
Because you wanted to build bridges and towers.
Because you weren’t at home dusting the den.
Because, for no reason.
Because “The gunman suffered a brutal upbringing”
Because the world has gone mad, gone sad.
Because you were there.

For Helene Colgan, 23
At 5:30, the paper says,
on Dec. 6
he began to roam the halls
hunting humans
with two ammunition belts
criss crossed on his chest;
a semi-automatic,
and a knife
and his eyes – cold
and his hand – steady
And in the paper they quote,
“It was just like Rambo.”
But what would you say, Helene,
if you could say?
Probably just
that it wasn’t fair;
that Rambo
only shot
the bad guys;
that your gunman
was shorter,
much scrawnier,
and no kind of hero.

For Nathalie Croteau, 23
When he spat:
like a dirty taste
from his mouth
you were the only one who said ‘no’
You said, “We aren’t.
Not the kind who protest
in the streets.”
Probably your last words
Probably not quite true
Not the kind who protest in the streets
But in the classroom.
The kind who would challenge,
the kind who would speak up;
try to save thirteen women
and herself
when everyone else
had lost their words.
Brave Nathalie
in coffin #8.

For Barbara Daigneault, 22
Later, they talked about the men
and the guilt
He was smaller than me,
I could have jumped him.
Could have
Should have
Would have
Could have been the hero
Should have hit, kicked,
slugged him hard,
sprayed a fire extinguisher
in his eyes.
Would have, if only
I’d thought of it in time.
Could have bashed his teeth out
Should have thrown him through
the wall.

For Anne-Marie Edward, 21
21 is very young
only 17 + 4.
21 should be camping in the Gatineau
Backpacking, hitchhiking,
meeting the man of her dreams
21 drinks cold coffee and works
late into the morning, on drafts
of a paper
she really should have started
last month.
21 drives with her music
turned up loud
and worries where
she’s going
with this life of hers
and whether or not
she can pay off
the phone bill
21 thinks often of a house
in a quiet neighbourhood
and a wedding dress
with a nice head piece
or veil
not too fancy,
and not too soon,
but not so very far off either.

For Maud Haviernick, 31
(Quotes taken from the Ottawa Citizen)
“The man who killed 14 women on Wednesday had trouble relating to women and couldn’t keep a steady relationship.”
“No way,”
you might say.
“Well, then… it’s okay.
Was he beaten as a child?
In high school, was he wild?
Was he reckless? Was he tough?
Did he just need more love?
Or was he bullied? Did they taunt him?
Did they pants him?
Did they punch him?
Did his mother make him bad?
Was she absent? Was his dad?
And how is it no one saw it?
no one caught it?
no one thought it?”
“He had difficulties in expressing his need to love and be loved. He was a very troubled individual, who suffered a brutal upbringing.”
“No way,”
you might say,
“well then…
it’s okay.”

For Maryse Leclair, 23
It didn’t seem any different
when his alarm went off
at 6:30
like every morning
just like it does
every morning
And when your father
read the newspaper,
put on his uniform-
when he secured his gun
in the leather holster,
how was he to know
he would walk
through his daughter’s blood
towards her killer
lying shot through the head
in a third floor classroom?
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
Not today.

For Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
You were just an Everywoman.
Nothing personal, Anne-Marie.
You were Everywoman
who turned her back,
Everywoman who wouldn’t let him
buy her a drink,
take her home,
take her in his arms.
Everywoman on the street
wearing a business suit
and heels
Each one he thought
was laughing at him.
If he’d known you were one woman
One woman who liked
to ride her bicycle in the spring,
who sometimes woke up
late at night
with cravings for sea food,
who wore red
Converse running shoes,
who liked to bake
and sometimes
liked to hike…
But it was nothing personal,

For Sonia Pelletier, 28
Your body was found underneath a cafeteria table,
trying to hide
just like you used to duck behind the sofa,
conceal yourself in the closet
with your feet in a pair of boots
and a jacket wrapped tight around you
Ready or not
here I come
like you used to hide your tooth brush
so when eight thirty came
and you wanted to stay up
you could waste time
then ask for a glass of water,
another kiss goodnight,
one last hug.
Exactly like they told you to do
in event of an earthquake.
“Sit in a doorway,”
they said,
“or under a table.
While the floor shakes
and the drywall cracks
around you
you should be safe there.”

For Michelle Richard, 21
Sort of like grade school picks
for baseball,
or a dance
with the boys on one side
and the girls
on the other.
And for awhile you thought
it was a joke,
some trickster;
some friend of someone’s
making an ass of himself
because it was the last
day before Christmas exams
and time
for some fun.

For Annie St-Arneault, 23
On Thursday night
they brought in
the maintenance crew
to paint over the bullet
repair the walls and
scrub away the
blood and bits.
And Friday morning,
were you to walk through,
you’d never guess.
You’d never even guess.

For Annie Turcotte, 21
Probably not how you imagined
your funeral
On an icy day with
3000 plus in attendance
And 14 hearses
gliding past
with white numbers on their sides
and all in a row
1 and 2, 3, 4
And a sunken-cheeked woman on the street corner
holding her daughter’s hand
5, 6,
7, 8
and the daughter not understanding
9, 10, 11,
saying to her mother,
‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’

For Barbara Marie Klueznick, 35
A three page letter,
dated, ‘Wednesday’
signed, ‘Marc’
meant to explain
meant to make it
make sense
and we could call him crazy,
and try to forgive
and we could call him ‘full of hate,’
and hate him right back
and we could fall to the ground
and cry ourselves to dehydration
and we could start a candlelight vigil
and we could be afraid
and we could learn self defence
and practice kicking a man in a marshmallow suit
and yelling the word ‘no’
We could, and we will
but it will never
bring you back

For Maryse Laganiere, 35
and the flags flew
at half mast
and the city was in shock,
and the country
and the men
were afraid
for their lovers
and the streets
were a little quieter
while your family
and your sisters
looked everywhere
for why’s.

(Illustration generously shared by Evan Munday)

Borrowing stories

Our new, shifting post-Ghomeshi internet and how personal blogs can help us communicate during the worst and most necessary debates.

The internet may have felt particularly full of garbage this past week, but I have been extra appreciative of personal bloggers, and how their stories have helped us communicate during the worst and most necessary debates.

The Ghomeshi sexual violence scandal began to break a week and a half ago, and immediately made social media a particularly fraught place to run into your friends. Whether the topic was guilt without prosecution, the complicity of the CBC, the role of gender or the responsibility of the accusers, big solid lines were drawn, emotional sides were taken, people… surprised (and dismayed) each other.

It has been a fascinating read, watching how the focus and vocabulary of the conversation has changed by the day. I have been super charged to see how personal blogs have fundamentally affected the conversation.

You wrote the script out

The story initiated and then advanced in segments — you can read a recap here or here or a dozen other places — as the media navigated very treacherous early territory. While Ghomeshi slandered his accusers and launched an exorbitant lawsuit, media outlets were extremely careful to itemize events and attach “alleged” to nearly every word written. The nature of innocence-until-proven-guilty in a scenario where guilt may never be proven means that free comment is particularly vulnerable to defamation claims. Such claims are extra expensive when celebrity is involved.

That’s all fair, but it doesn’t help the rest of us. So much of this discussion is not about guilt, innocence, or how Ghomeshi himself got away with it. The scandal has brought up awful, sickening questions about abuse in general, how it affects the victims, and how our communities react to it, especially when positions of power are involved. The debates have had many, many sides.

  • How does a predator manage to go unchecked for so many years?
  • What makes some so quick to discount survivor stories, in the absence of physical proof?
  • What does it mean if a victim doesn’t report?
  • How do the abused end up blaming themselves, and not their abusers?
  • What past abusive events have we glossed over or not taken seriously, in our own lives or those around us?
  • Were our initial reactions valid, or informed heavily by gender bias and misplaced trust in celebrity?
  • What do we do now?

These are questions that the newspapers can’t answer with a scandal play-by-play, but they can begin to be answered by individuals — maybe never as a whole, but in small pieces that hopefully form a bigger picture made of (often brave, chilling, insightful) personal stories and reactions.

All my life is right before you

Often, those stories are told in the scope of a blog with minimal niche readership or personal traffic. It might be an expression of outrage, a personal abuse story, or a reflection on one’s own reactions. It might even be a story about Ghomeshi himself. The writer may not have expected to make a statement or a difference for anyone but themselves, but some posts hit the nail more precisely than others, and become quick, accessible shorthand for a certain viewpoint or experience. This is where the vocabulary of sharing comes into play.

The conversation on Facebook and Twitter has been painful, sometimes inspiring, often demoralizing. These are hard things to discuss with our communities, because the issues are super volatile, people are quick to judge and feel judged, and discussion brings the danger of making private experiences public.

‘Cause you have seen some unbelievable things

This is where I have been heartened to see blogs act as conversation segments for circulation and reuse. As more blog content reacting to the scandal emerged day by day, people shared blog post links in the comments on articles, feeds, or threads. In the midst of a media event that was adamantly all about the facts, some of those personal or opinion posts were viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

I can’t count how many times I saw links shared in a thread of Ghomeshi-related comments, during painful, sometimes hugely emotional debate, prefaced by “This says things so much better than I could.”

The links became shorthand for longer discussion, where space constraints or personal privacy prevented a lengthy reply. As the top posts emerged, they crystallized certain arguments and kept them from being muddied by unfocused repetition. They acted as proxy stories, shielding commenters from having to outline their own awful, private stories of abuse. They functioned as a spacer to bring breathing room between the people disagreeing and the explosive topic they were disagreeing on. They provided guidelines on how to speak to each other, and outlines for further discussion.

Even some CBC staffers, who couldn’t give specifics when the first news broke, expressed themselves by posting a careful link to the xojane article with a cautious I’ll just leave this here.

It was not a great article and it didn’t even scratch the surface of what would follow, but it was the best thing they had in their hands at the time, the only safe vocabulary available. Sharing a link in a charged situation like that, even publicly, can allow the (legally-important) distance of suggesting that an idea be considered, without having to outline or assert that idea ourselves.

So I want to thank all the personal bloggers who shared their experiences and their opinions this week, and let us use their words as our own. You might not know what a difference you made.

And the rest of the commenting world — if you need some shorthand to help you express yourself, here are some posts that might help you say any of the following:

Header image by B Furnari used under Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/furnari/120726413