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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Reader Beware

Tis the season for religion, for spirits and spirituality. I like this time of year for the most part, but it's not because of the commercialism (I'm not that daft), nor the religious significance. I like the fact that, regardless of motivation, people are genuinely trying harder to be kinder, sunnier, connected to each other.

However...

You know there's always a "but"...

This is where I am warning people of delicate sensibilities that this will be a blunt and rough post. If you cannot deal with the ugliness that life can sometimes offer, please, for you own sake, DO NOT READ THIS. I mean it.

All these blogs I've been reading about their faith and their sense of belief in this holiday remind me of my own faith. That is: none.

Banjk's recent post was eloquent and reminded me a bit of myself, but in no tangible way. I've not had the same experiences - couldn't imagine having my child undergo what his did - but something rang true. But while he still has his faith in God, I don't.

I haven't had a belief in a higher power since I was very young.

I was baptised Anglican. Trinity Anglican Church somewhere in North York (the north end of Toronto). But my parents never went to church. I did have a bible. I actually read a good portion of it as a teenager, viewing it as a historical document, curious as to what drew these other people. Took courses in university too, for similar reasons. Intellectual fascination with the machinery of faith.

I remember going to a church by bus because my friend was going. I bugged my parents for days till they relented. I also thought the Sunday school teacher was soooo pretty. Her name was Katie Brereton. I still remember. I was about 7. The church, I believe, was Pentecostal. I only went a few times. I do remember Katie telling me that something was a sin, which was so foreign to me. If I was a good girl, and behaved myself, which I always did, how could God be angry with me? I felt then that something didn't make sense. I stopped going.

Then I went to another Sunday School, for similar reasons (a friend was going). Again, it was a bus ride to this BIG church with a neon cross on top. I had never been in a church so big and modern. We sang songs ("He's got the WHOOOOLLLE world, IN his HANDS") and we listened and here again I learned that things were sins. I stopped going there too. I don't remember why.

When I was nine, I had a crush on my teacher. He was so handsome, and always had this intriguing scent. (Years later I realized that it was a combination of Old Spice aftershave and excess coffee). I was an excellent student and always finished my work early. I would spend my extra time up at his desk, offering to help him with this or that.

I would stay after class to help him. I lived quite close to the school and I'm one of four children. I'm sure my mother wasn't worried about me, in retrospect. I don't blame her, but I'm sure that having one less child underfoot for a few hours was a blessing at the time. I just LOVED to be near him, his blue eyes cutting through me, his wonderful smell. He would walk round the school yard during recess and we would (because others liked him too) rush to be first to hold his hand. Then during class we could hold our hands up to our faces and smell his aftershave all day.

One day, he asked me to stay after school.

He asked me a question. To the day I die I will never ever forget it:

"If you stay after school and do me a favour, I will make sure that you pass school with flying colours".

Please scroll above to where I said I was an excellent student. But I was so happy that he was paying attention to me. A chubby, awkward 9 year old, blossoming a little early for her age. So even though I thought it strange, I said yes. I have to admit that I was curious: what favour would he single ME out for?

Some of you, perhaps most of you, think you can see what's coming. And you'd likely be right. I'm not going to go into graphic detail here, but I remember lying on the floor of the classroom with my own underwear in my mouth, tears rolling backward into my ears and all I could think of were these churches. Where was God? What had I done? What sin had I committed?

Because of my own example of what are well-documented psychological coping mechanisms, my mind decided to change the events of what occurred: he asked the question, and I declined. End of story.

About a year later, a friend of mine and I were studying multiplication tables, chanting them out in her backyard as we played hopscotch. Each hop was a number: "Twelve TIMES twelve IS one HUNdred FORty Four". And somehow I told her the story. Of course not the truth, because I hadn't any memory of it. I told her the sanitised version. And even then she was upset and demanded I tell my mother. I said I would but had no intention of it. I remember at the time feeling like the earth had fallen away and I had to keep this from my mom.

My friend called that night and asked "Did you tell your mom?" Like a trained monkey, I replied "Did I tell my mom what?" My mother was sitting right there and pestered me over and over. Tell me what tell me what tell me what. So I got increasingly upset and eventually she got the story. The sanitised one, of course. Like a repeat performance with my friend, my mother went nuts. She phoned the school. We had meetings and I remember being called out of class to go down to the principal's office to tell my story. NO one got called down to Mr. Fivey's office unless they'd been quite bad indeed. So I downplayed my story as much as possible. Nothing happened to the man. Nothing.

The story isn't as bleak as it might seem. I will try to keep this as concise as possible.

Fast forward to me @ 16 years old. I began to have screaming nightmares where a masked man would come into my house and shoot my entire family, except me, then pick me up, carry me through the side door of the house which magically led to my grade 4 class room where he ripped off the mask and the assault continued in all its Dolby Digital Detail.

I didn't sleep. I went into a major depression. On my own I sought counselling. I believe this is when I had my first bipolar episode, but not diagnosed at the time. I began cutting at that time, with the scars on my arms to prove it. And over a period of 5 years - yes FIVE YEARS - I finally pieced things together. Things the bear trap in my mind allowed to float to the surface, mangled and bloodied, but still recognizable. My innocence here. My trust there.

At this time I was married to my first husband. I decided, with his help, I was going to press charges. There is no statute of limitations for such things here and I wanted to have the world know what he had done. You see, he was still teaching. I felt that even if I didn't see him convicted, I would at least have planted doubt in the minds of some and he wouldn't be trusted the same ever again.

It took two years to get to trial. By this time I was separated and seeing the man who is now my husband.

There was a bailiff who was there everyday. She was a woman in her 50s, and in the last day of trial she brought me a gift. I still have it. It was a lapel pin of an angel. She said to me that no matter what, I was being an angel to the girls who would come after me.

I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. I took the angel to be a metaphor, non-believer that I am. And I still believe that to be true: if I was anything, I was helping by standing up to be counted. That had little to do with God or Heavenly Hosts of Hallelujah.

Then came the verdict.

Just as I will remember forever the wording of his question to me, I will never ever forget the wording of the judge.

Just because Mrs. X believesthese things to have occurred, and I have no doubt that she does believe it, this does not mean that they did in fact occur.

I heard no more. I got up and ran down the hall of the courthouse, followed by the crown attorney and chief detective. They took me into the crown's office and talked to me. I wasn't listening much. I was planning my own death. I figured it out in the 90 seconds it took to get from the court to the office. I knew exactly what I was going to do. But they kept talking.

The crown attorney kept asking me where Rob was (my boyfriend, now my husband). I told her he was working and she insisted on driving me to the subway station, making me call him from her office to ensure he met me there.

She saved my life. And when I met Rob, he saved it again.

A few days later, I was fired from my job.

Story seems pretty bleak, doesn't it.

There's a silver lining.

Days later, I was awash in a horrible depression. I had thought I could deal with a negative verdict, but that was an intellectual exercise. The real thing was far beyond my ability to cope with at that time. The chief detective phoned me at home and said that there was a woman who had read the write up of the trial in the Toronto paper. My name wasn't mentioned (rape shield law), but his was. And this woman wanted to talk to me.

It turns out that 10 YEARS BEFORE anything had happened to me, this man had lived in the same apartment building as this woman, who lived in the BUILDING NEXT TO MY PARENTS (who had moved out of their about a year after that). Damn. Coincidences are too strange sometimes. But this man had inappropriately touched her daughter as a toddler. Her daughter had no memory of it, and this woman wasn't going to force anything on her daughter. But this woman wanted me to know that regardless of what the judge said (details of his verdict were published), she believed me and thought I had done the right thing. She wanted me to know what she knew what he was and would always believe me.

How does all this gory detail tie into my belief, or lack thereof?

I have come through this life of fire and ice, scarred, bloodied and bruised, but intact. I have learned of myself in a way that I would never have otherwise. I draw off that strength sometimes in very dark hours. Sometimes I fall short, but I rely then on those who love me. I AM strong, stronger than the dirt that had clouded my mind for the five years till I was sixteen. I stood and faced my Lucifer, felt his gaze ground my insides to glass, and didn't fall. I looked once again into those ice cold blue eyes and survived. I know that some of you will say that it is God that gave me that strength, and I am happy you believe that. I believe that I earned that strength on my own.

I have read the Footprints in the Sand. Many times. Some of you will say that during those times that I was at my worst and ready to die, that God was carrying me. I cannot believe that. That little girl all those years ago won't allow it.

But what she WILL allow is a belief in myself.

Don't be sad for me. Rejoice that I still stand, ready to hold out my hand to those else in need. Regardless of what I call it, I still live by the words "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Call it faith if you want. I call it simply living well.

And someone told me long ago, living well is the best revenge.



Blogger moodymicello said...
What a traumatizing experience for you and long term. You obviously are a strong person to have made it through that with the support system you had, which doesn't sound like it is pretty much only your husband. That takes faith in yourself and faith in the basic good of the universe, thus the do unto others. I think you have stated it perfectly.  

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Blondzila,

I found your site via Banjk's blog. I am paddymick (paddymick.journalspace.com) from the story you reference in this post. Banjk and I have been friends for many years. We have supported each other on various occasions.

Your post, however, hearkens to experiences that would break most people. "Support" in such situations is an empty attempt. The individual cannot survive such situations without strength from within. They have to learn to live and breath again.

Many, in this type of situation, will (as you suggested) claim that it was God or some other supernatural force that helped them through. I, however, believe as you do, that it is you that deserve the credit for your salvation. You are one of the few...

Thanks for sharing.  

Blogger moodymicello said...
To remake my comments which I shouldn't have attempted after taking my meds for sleep, You are obviously a strong person and were somehow able to hold it together with very little support as a child. It is not surprising that you have no faith in a higher power having seen man's creation of faith at it's finest. But faith in yourself who could do something is most logical. This is the kind of faith my eldest daughter has. And I have it too. It seems like you never had any support system until Rob came along. That is a very long time for a person to wait for someone to help ease the load. I can't say I understand because I haven't walked in those shoes. But I am glad you had the inner strength - that someone saw to it that you were born with the intelligence and stamina to handle the situations which were tossed your way. I have faith from your story that there is good and bad in the world and that good is meant to rally. Congrats to you for seeing to it, despite the court ruling, that bad did not prevail because you are here and you are whole despite the episode and maybe, just maybe, that court hearing put him on notice that people will be watching. Michele  

Blogger Banjk said...
Heheh, fixed your link! Sorry, it was broken and I didn't even realize it!

Hmmm...Banjk believes in God...not quite...I believe that...to quote: "We are the Universe's attempt to figure itself out."

But that's not important.

You heard from Paddymick. Ain't he beautiful? Now you can see one of the many reasons I'm alive.

But he is right. You have found a strength that so few have. An inner light that so many refuse to see. you have walked the dark and come out shining.

I bow to you and welcome *your* strength in this world.

Thank you.

-Banjk  

Blogger blondzila said...
Thanks guys :-)  

Blogger Meitar said...
Wow.  

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