Even at the tender age of eleven, I could not climb the stairs from the basement to tell my parents what had happened. What is more upsetting is that I am uncertain to why. I may have been afraid of not being believed although, it is more likely that I feared being blamed. Instead of saying anything, I slipped soundlessly into a chair at the kitchen table to sit next to the middle brother, Wes. The only one in that house whom I trusted.
“Johnny tried to kiss you, didn’t he?”
Johnny was Wes’ older brother and this omission was in the form of a question. This startled me, but I could only nod. Wes was doing his homework and I sat stunned, scared and unmoving. Until, of course, his dad came in. This wiry man was my mother’s best friend’s husband and he shooed me away to the basement again.
“Wes doesn’t need any distraction during his studies.” His father had said.
The meager smile the boy gave me was meant as an apology. Wes knew what the basement would hold for me and didn’t tell.
Slowly, I descended the stairs in my fuzzy pink pajamas with purple feet and mitten-shaped pockets. There, Johnny was with his littlest brother, setting up a board game. On the floor at the opposite end of the coffee table seemed the safest place for me. So, I masked my reluctance and joined. How could I have known that from beneath the table his leg crossed the distance? Every time he tried cramming his foot into my crotch, I smacked it away. On the third try, he sent his little brother upstairs.
The words “don’t go” were stuck in my throat as I scrambled to my feet.
Before I knew what was happening, he had me pinned down on the couch and I can still remember is crushing weight. In my panicked frenzy, I somehow managed to get away. Straight up two flights of stairs, I ran clutching the waist of my pajama bottoms. I hid under the covers of where I would be sleeping that night; except, I didn’t sleep. I sobbed quietly, gripped by the fear that Johnny would try again. Luckily, he did not.
Memory is a funny thing. Somehow, for awhile I was able to get passed
that night at my parent’s friend’s house. There were a few years of blissful forgetfulness and denial. Until one day that memory came crashing back fully loaded with the fear of an eleven-year-old child.
In grade ten drama class, we were to perform self-written monologues. One of these performances was of an intimate account of a sexual assault from the point of view of the victim as if he were talking to his counselor. Everything he said bore into a wound I hadn’t known was there. The memory of my attack resurfaced and it distorted all that I knew and tainted every relationship I had. Resentment chewed away at me and left a predominate chip.
Mercifully, I never saw Johnny again. But, even now, thirty years later, on those rare occasions, his name is mentioned in casual conversation I stiffen and my stomach twists. That night will play over in my head and the agonizing self-deprecation begins.
I should have recognized the danger in the way he looked at me.
I should have declined the can of pop he offered me.
I should have kept my distance and not stood next to him when we were picking out a movie.
I should not have changed into my pajamas.
I should have…
I should have…
I should have…
I should have told someone.
No one blames the victim more than the victim blames themselves.
This needs to change! Why did I feel the need the justify how old I was or what I was wearing? Would I have been lesser of a victim if I had been eighteen, full figured and scantily dressed? The answer is NO! The end of victim blaming starts with victims and potential victims. Why didn’t I tell?
A victim is …a victim is… A VICTIM.
Johnny was fourteen when he attacked me. I worry that I may have encouraged his warped approach to woman and sex by not telling. I may have been able to stop him. The truth is, I really don’t know. I bolted and did everything in my power to ignore and avoid him. There is no way of knowing how many girls and woman he has victimized over the years. This thought haunts me.
Now I have a daughter of my own and I struggle with how to protect her without having to tell her of the many threats that may surround her. I want her to be aware without being jaded. I want her to be safe without losing her innocence or free spirit. More importantly, I want her to always talk to me.
I resent having to raise my daughter to be cautious of predators. Programming women to scrutinize their own actions as a way of preventing someone from wronging them is fundamentally backward and socially corrupt. The blame falls solely on the offender.
It had only been moments earlier that I was engrossed in a game on my phone and only mildly aware of the other passengers that had stepped on and off the subway around me. There are so many stops along my route that I just get used to the movement of the train. But on this Saturday afternoon, I happened to glance up and instantly began to shake. He was in full camouflage garb and under his raised hood was a black mask. All of his features were undecipherable
but, it was not just what he was wearing. His stance and behaviour caused me alarm. Although he was not a particularly big man, he stood with his back against one door while admiring himself in the reflection of the adjacent entranceway. He shifted from one foot to the other, gyrating while tugging at the wrists of his black gloves. Every so often he would slip a hand into his jacket and begin the ritual all over. There is no other way to describe his behaviour other than he appeared to be preparing to do something. He was amped up.
I froze, not knowing what to do. I slowly took in my surroundings and realized no one else noticed him and I considered that I been gripped by paranoia. Then, I looked at the map above the door nearest me to assess how long until the next stop. We were half way between the two stations which were the furthest apart. My ears began to burn and my eyes began to sting; all signs that I was not okay. This is my visceral response to the fear, helplessness, and doubt this stranger had provoked just by standing twenty feet from me. The train was slowing. We were nowhere close to the next stations and my heart began to thunder in my chest.
The thought that perhaps security had spotted this man on their cameras and had suspended the train as a way to organize a plan at the next platform not only calmed me a little, it twisted my fear into vigilance. It was still possible that I was being paranoid. Then, once the train made its complete irregular stop the man turned and started walking towards me. I had considered taking a video but my shaking hands and his proximity botched that idea. What I saw next changed everything.
The panic and fear that prickled at my spine had been replaced with a burn. There was no camouflage on the back of his jacket. Except for his sleeves, it was all beige. Markings that I
could not identify, with my limited knowledge of anything middle eastern were scrawled in black across his shoulders. What I was seeing appeared to be Islamic lettering with two symbols that resembled hands either using the thumb and fourth finger to make a broken ‘W’ or guns. Regardless what it was, it pissed me off.
He stopped at another doorway to watch himself rock back and forth while pulling at the cuffs of his gloves and touching inside his jacket. This time he threw tight little air punches. It was as if he were antagonizing us; begging for everyone to notice and daring someone to say or do something.
Where the hell were the drunken sports fans who often take this very train? Three burly guys with the bravado that came with being in an excited energized group was exactly what we needed right then. No luck. Most of us were single passengers or paired up in couples or young shoppers. Some had noticed our trouble maker and were slowly processing what he was and what could be going on and decided to ignore it. The train jolted forward again and the man bolted back to his original spot two doors ahead of me. At this point, not only was I watching him, I was trying to figure out if he was alone and if anyone else around me was on alert. A few puzzled expressions looked his way but seemed disinterested. The voice came over the speaker system announcing the next stop and he turned and stalked by me before returning to his secondary position
again. As the train turned slightly to the right, I lost sight of him and purposefully moved to the other side of my car. We turned again, this time to the left and I returned to my seat, all the while never taking my eyes off the man. Finally my actions and, I can only assume, intense staring caught the attention of other passengers who began to take notice of the man in full combat gear and mask taunting his own reflection.
The gentleman nearest me looked my way and said shakily, “Is that..?”
“Fucking suspicious?! Hell yes.”
I said without looking at him because at the same time the man started toward the front of the train. I got up and bolted towards him refusing to let him out of my sight. As people stood for their nearing stop, he was more difficult to track. The train slowed and l maneuvered my way through the crowd. When I caught him in my sights again he was right at the very end of the train. He was nearing the conductor’s booth. I did not know what to do. The train stopped and the man turned and stood strangely close to the last set of doors. When they opened, he swayed back and forth, as if playing with the decision to get off. I stepped onto the platform but was prepared to jump back on. The doors closed and the man stayed on board. The subway began to move and accelerate past me. I ran to the stairway while looking for a train number. In doing so I looked right into the frightened face of the gentleman who had been sitting near me. I will never forget that face and expression of fearful confusion.
Now, what do I do? Do I get on the next train? Was this worth being late for work? If I am over reacting and being paranoid, how do I explain that? How can I get on the next train with my suspicions? What if I am right? What good will I be to anyone if something happens? I will just be stuck on the next train, stuck underground. With that, I ran up the stairs and found the first uniform I could. It turned out to be a bus driver to whom I reported what I saw.
The sound of my own voice trembling was enough to convince myself that the threat was real. Even if it was not a terrorist attack in the making, what kind of ass-hole gets on a train to provoke terror? I was afraid for me, for my children and every single person on that train. I was angry at the way he made me feel in my own community and how defenseless I felt. I think that I am tough but doubted that I was tough enough to take him down. But what if I were wrong? That was the question that stirred the most inner commotion.
The bus driver did not waste any time. He ran to the subway booth operator and after they exchanged words both sprinted in opposite directions. I stood there all alone, not knowing what to do.
Finally, I reasoned that I had done all that I could and climbed into a cab once I reached street level. Traffic was terrible and the cab driver looked at me strangely when I asked him to avoid routes that followed the subway. In all fairness, after everything, what sense did it make for me to remain within proximity of that train? It was a few minutes after my start time once I reached work. At first, my colleagues laughed at me for allowing my imagination to get the better of me. But after a few minutes of discussion, they all agreed that there is something just not right about wearing a mask and behaving so strangely on public transit. The agreement being; no organized terrorist group would be that obvious. I agreed but a wannabe terrorist could be just as dangerous. What if he was looking to be recruited and this was his act of loyalty? What if he were just a punk trying to get a reaction? Well, he succeeded. I was afraid and then I was angry. Hell, I am still angry. The general agreement was that no one would have blamed a soccer mom for getting up and kneeing a punk on the train who was clearly an idiot and potentially dangerous.
I spend the next few hours waiting for something on the news and was grateful that there wasn’t anything. Then I spend the next two week scouring the internet looking for the lettering I saw and a general image of what he looked like. Two weeks later there was another attack this time in Brussels. My experience was terrifying and so insignificant in comparison to what all of those people felt and continue to feel. The images of people fleeing and victims struck down are devastating and heart wrenching. I refuse to let my fear outweigh my anger but I will continue to be pissed off and vigilant.
And as soon as I can find an image that best depicts what I saw, what he was wearing and what was on the back of his jacket I will post it. This person could have very well been a woman, so pardon the constant use of ‘he’.
The day when you make calls, text or tweet to raise awareness of mental illness as an effort to end the stigma attached to this type of suffering. It is a great cause that brings all the levels of support and avenues for help to light. I would like to point out where we are failing and still have much work to do.
The crisis hotlines are only for people who are actually on the ledge. These selfless men and women who answer these calls are trained to encourage you to climb down. This is not a number you can call if you are hurting and contemplating suicide. If that is the case you will be directed to your family physician.
General Practitioner knowledge and training is lacking.
If you are brave enough to go and be honest with your family doctor about your coping methods: whether it be drug use, alcohol abuse or a tendency to cut, your GP will be happy to prescribe you an anti-depressant and refer you a psychiatrist. There will be no follow-up, just an assumption that you are indeed taking the meds (which clearly do the trick) and an acute oblivion to the fact that the earliest shrink appointment is several months away.
Human Resources department are enough to drive anyone crazy. The forms required to take leave when you are in crisis fail to have a section for mental illness or depression and even when your doctor has filled it out to the best of their abilities given the irrelevant space HR will reject the request for leave.
The hospital itself has a protocol that hinders many by painting every patient with the same brush. When there is a suicide attempt regardless the reason or the method the ER doctor is required by law to notify the ministry of transportation. They will immediately suspend your license. This means, that the survivors of suicide, if lucky enough to recover physically, will be unable to resume their lives and pick up the pieces especially if they depend on their license for their income. The red tape involved in having a driver’s license reinstated in long and tedious. It will take the better part of a year.
How do they expect someone struggling to get their life back not to feel helpless and dejected if they cannot get themselves to work or do their job?
A year ago my wife of nineteen years was in a horrible car accident. When the blown tire of a transport truck crashed through her windshield it was a miracle she survived. After weeks of therapy and months of pain killers, her body was healing but she was never the same. Darlene (the unknown author) developed a dependency on her pain killers which she had begun mixing with alcohol. The mother of my two girls was turning into a completely different person. She was an angry drunk who sank back into dark corners of her past that I could not determine if real. After she accused me of despicable things I am not capable of; we began living apart.
Finally, five months ago after a break down that even she recognized, I convinced her to get help. We called a hotline together. I heard her admit that sometimes she just didn’t want to be here anymore. It was clear to me that Darlene did not see this as being suicidal. Once the councilor determined that she was not a threat to herself or anyone else, she advised my wife to seek a physician’s help.
We Waited…waited for help. She was hurting and we had to wait to get help! Admitting that you need help is not the hardest step. The waiting is.
Eight days later she had a doctor’s appointment which she allowed me to sit in on. The glossed over version of events that she spun was worthy of a weekend at the spa. Risking our marriage, I clarified a few points and reminded Darlene of a number of specific breakdowns. We left there with an antidepressant prescription and the promise that a psychiatrist’s office would call to arrange an appointment. Little did he know that Darlene would take those pills with a bottle of wine and that the shrink’s appointment would be a seven-month wait.
Four weeks later Darlene stumbled home. Her work had called; she hadn’t been there all day. With red rimmed eyes, she dragged herself to bed muttering that she wasn’t feeling well. I made her a tea and wrapped her up in a blanket. Thinking it was the flu, I found it was strange that she did not have a fever and had yet to explain where she had been all day.
“I was supposed to be gone by now.” She said.
The words floated around me meaningless for a while. Darlene had tried to kill herself. She had downed a bottle of Tylenol after she left in the morning. She had no intentions of going to work. She sat in her car all day waiting to die. When I got her to the hospital they pumped her stomach. ‘Wait and see’ was what they said after that. The next 72 hours were crucial. For three days I didn’t know if my wife was going to live or die.
My work gently explained that it was my wife in the hospital not me. I would be expected back to work unless I had a doctor’s note. Our GP was happy to fill out the form the first time but after the fourth rejection, he had grown to dislike my company.
On the second day, after the liver specialist told my wife to get her affairs in order, our daughter’s sat by their mother’s side and kissed her goodbye. That night, Darlene died in my arms.
Women will often say that the best day of their lives was their wedding day or the day their children were born. Those days were great indeed, but when you have had the worse day of your life the rest are like little pieces of wonderful. I wish I had one good day to give back to Darlene.
So many of us failed my wife, including me. We let the darkness win.
Depression is not a choice; the ignorance surrounding depression and mental illness is.