Stung

I return to CCH for my OAC year. Catholic Central is a more reputable school academically than Laurier and I want to get into a good university. Sé graduated from CCH the previous year, and he is attending university in Ottawa ten hours north of London. I never understand how, with his poor academic transcript, Sé manages to get into a Canadian university. Unfortunately, Jane Shure is still at CCH for her Grade thirteen year. She and I never speak to one another but I see her running at lunch, trying unsuccessfully to shrink her enormous ass. There is a party in the fall one night and she is there. When the Police song Everything She Does is Magic is played, Sé’s buddies, who are doing a victory lap in Grade fourteen at CCH, start singing the chorus to Jane the way they used to sing it to me when I was Sé’s girl. Jane is yelling out Sé’s last name, her jubilant face next to mine. I felt that she is taunting me, and it takes me every ounce of self-control I possess not to punch her in the face. Sé’s buddies try to hurt me in these ways, and then they come sniffing around my vulnerability to try to get me into bed by pretending to be concerned for my well-being. I learn over and over again that men cannot be trusted.

I take an English course across the road at the public high school, Beale, so that I can be finished at lunch time each day. I have Period 1 and 2 at Catholic Central and then I run over Dundas Street to make my third period English class dressed in my Catholic school girl uniform. Each day I pass the London Police Station on my way to Beale Secondary and think of going inside dressed in my Catholic Central Crusader kilt and knee socks to press charges against my rapist, but I don’t do it. I still do not fully believe that I have been raped. I still accuse myself for what happened that night. It is my fault for being at the pub, for drinking and for going outside alone.

Without realizing it, I become increasingly isolated during Grade thirteen. I put my head down and study diligently, and by January 1984, I had graduate from Grade thirteen six months early. I am finished with school until the following September. My mom gets me a job in the factory in which she works and I also keep my McDonald’s job, working sixty-five hours each week. I work from six in the morning until three in the afternoon at the Siemens plant, then go and do a shift at McDonald’s from five until midnight. I work weekends at McDonald’s too. My life is a blur of shift work, days turning into months without the welcome interruption of joy.

My mom is the queen bee in the factory. Every worker in the plant is from away with the exception of two Canadian women. There are three or four Scottish women besides my mother working in the factory. The other immigrant workers in the plant are from Portugal. They speak little or no English, and they look to my mom to give them a voice, which she does as she works to bring a union into the plant. As I work on the line, my mother comes to my side of the plant. She has one hand tucked into her front jeans’ pocket, and with the other hand she regally cradles an apple, periodically taking large bites from it. She looks full of herself chatting with people up and down the line as if she is someone important rather than just another immigrant, hourly-rate employee without a high school diploma. She strikes me as ridiculous as the silly Portuguese women with whom I am surrounded.

Those women come to the plant with their hair and makeup done, dripping in European gold, and stuffed into tight, designer jeans. These are some of the things upon which these women spend their hard-earned pay. Though they are married, they flirt openly with the married men who are our foremen. Conversely, I come to the plant each day in my Adidas track pants and a t-shirt. I have three pairs of those track pants and I rotate them for my work days in the same way as I had rotated my uniform pieces as a student at Catholic Central. I don’t wear any makeup or jewelry and I hold my thick, naturally curly hair, which I am always growing, off my face with a clip strong enough to grasp all of it. I still attract male attention and it seems to annoy these married women who work hard to impress their male counterparts at the plant.

Some of the men hang about looking for an opportunity to flirt with me, but I don’t bite. I want nothing to do with men. Some even try to dissuade me from going to university. One day I am in a washroom stall and the two Portuguese woman who are the self-appointed centerfold models of the plant, are talking about an ugly woman in the plant.

“And I hate her curly hair. And those stupid track pants she wears every day. Oh my God. So ugly.” They laugh together uncontrollably.

Of course, they are talking about me, laughing at me. I wait for them to exit the washroom and then I emerge from the stall. I don’t let it affect me though it stings to be mocked in such a callous manner. I exit the toilet and choose to ignore their words, and all of the plant drama. It holds no interest for me.  I have a purpose and I am driven towards it.

I want to go out of town for university to escape the trauma of London, Ontario, but my mother says they don’t have the money for me to go. I should apply to those schools anyway and bank on a scholarship. My marks are so high in Grade thirteen that I would receive an academic scholarship from any school to which I apply, but I don’t apply. I am too lost and bewildered to figure out the process. I also don’t apply to Carleton University as I want to. Sé is at the University of Ottawa, and if I go to Carleton in Ottawa, I will be accused of following him there. I shouldn’t let his plans and what others might say stop my own, but I do. I put the idea of going to Ottawa to study journalism out of my mind. Ryerson in Toronto also has a journalism program and I think perhaps I will go there. Toronto is almost three-hundred kilometers east of London, a two-and-a-half-hour drive. It is a big city to get lost in. I crave the anonymity that Toronto might extend me.

In the spring of my nineteenth year, I set about making arrangements to visit Toronto’s Ryerson University. Admissions at Ryerson tells me that I have to write an entrance exam, and I also have to bring a portfolio of my work, which I don’t have. I go anyway. I want to get away from home for a few days if nothing else. I take the train to Toronto and get a room in a hotel next to Maple Leaf Gardens. While I am there I run into Rutger Fassbender, the boy from London whom I’d dated three or four times since Grade eleven. He is working as a DJ in Toronto and when we bump into one another in the Toronto Eaton’s Centre, he invites me to go to the club where he is working. I decline saying that I have an interview the next morning, which I have, and want to get to bed early.

Though Rutger and I had dated several times, we have never so much as held hands with one another until he demanded a kiss after one date. I was already in my house and he came back to the screen door, asked me to open it so he could kiss me. I did so reluctantly and he gave me a passionless peck. Rutger Fassbender was probably the best looking boy who had ever taken an interest in me in high school, and whenever I ran into him again I would feel attracted to him and agree to go out with him again when he asked, but once we were out together I felt repelled by him. He was rather forceful, which I chalked up to his German heritage. He would take my elbow as we walked together and direct me across the street. I hated that.

When he and I run into one another in Toronto, I am mortified. Rutger attended high school with my rapist, Uva. The two played on the Saunders Secondary senior boys’ basketball team together. I have not seen Rutger since Uva raped me. I guess that he has heard from Uva that he had sex with me and Rutger, who dated me chastely over a period of several years, likely could not piece it all together. How could a girl who had never even allowed him to get to first base have a one night stand in the woods with Uva? I still don’t know how to talk about what happened to me. I just want to run from it.

“How about we meet after I’m done at the club?” Rutger pushes.

“I’ll be in bed.”

“I’ll give you a shout when I am finished DJ-ing and we’ll grab a coffee.”

“What time will that be?”

“I can finish early. I’ll get someone to cover for me. I could leave at about eleven or twelve.”

“That’s late. I’ll be asleep,” I say again

He insists that I tell him where I am staying, which I do because I still cannot tell boys ‘no’ though I want to.

I am asleep in my hotel room when my phone wakes me just after midnight. I answer it to hear Rutger’s voice on the other end.

“I’m in the lobby. What room are you in?”

I give him my suite number, but I don’t want him there. He comes upstairs and I sit at the opposite end of the room on a chair by the window, fully dressed. We chat for a few minutes and then I tell him that I have to go back to sleep.

“Can I stay here with you?” he asks.

“No.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to sleep,” I say again.

“I’ll just sleep next to you,” he says.

“No.”

“I don’t have cab fare,” he tells me.

I stand and walk to my purse. “How much will it take to get you home?” I ask him.

“Five bucks.”

I pull a five dollar bill from my wallet and hand it to him. “Here you are,” I say. I see shock in his eyes. I open the hotel room door and usher him through it. He hopes that I will fuck him, I think.

“Do you want to meet for lunch tomorrow after your interview?” he asks me.

“Sure.” Agreeing to meet with him seems to be the fastest way to get him to leave.

“Okay. How about one o’clock in front of Mr. Green Jeans in the Eaton’s Centre?”

“Okay,” I say.

He leaves my room and I climb back into my bed, shaking. I have no intention of meeting him the next day or ever again.

In the morning, I check out of the hotel and walk to Ryerson for my nine o’clock examination and interview. The exam isn’t difficult, and after I hand in the test to the proctor I am given time for a break before the interview. I pick up my purse and overnight bag, walk outside and sit on a bench in front of the university.

I am in a fog. I feel nothing.

If I come to Toronto, Rutger will be there. He is a tie to London, Uva and my rape. Slowly I stand and walk away from the Ryerson campus. I never go for the interview.

As I float rootlessly in downtown Toronto, Rutger sees me from across Yonge Street. It is after one in the afternoon, and I have stood him up for our lunch date. I have my bag with me, and am headed home.

“Hey! You never showed,” he states the obvious with a furrowed brow.

“My interview ran late,” I lie. “I just finished. I had no way of calling you to let you know.”

“How did it go?”

“Don’t know,” I shrug, lying a second time.

“Do you want to grab a bite now?” he asks.

“I’m headed to the train station now,” I tell him. “My train leaves soon.” A third fib. My train doesn’t leave until five-thirty.

“Can I call you?” he asks. He grabs my hand.

“Sure,” I say. I withdraw my hand from his and walk toward the VIA Rail station on Front Street.

“I’ll call you then!” he shouts.

I wave over my shoulder, but don’t look back at him. I know I will never talk to him again. I don’t want any connection with anyone from London, especially someone who has played on his senior secondary school basketball team with my rapist. Fuck them all!

When I return to London, my mother tells me that I have been awarded an academic scholarship to the University of Western Ontario. Western is the university in London, Ontario, and the only one my parents will allow me to attend. It is a beautiful campus with elegant Brownstown buildings, but I do not want to stay in London any longer. I want to escape my family home, and all the fighting that takes place there. I also want to escape the trauma of the rape. I don’t know it then, but trauma survivors develop a penchant for running away. They run from the place where the trauma originated. In my case, it is from the abuse in my family home as well as the sexual violation that occurred beyond the home. Running often becomes a pattern in the lives of trauma survivors. They flee rather than fight when issues arise. I also do not know that it is important that I leave London if I am to ever heal, but I sense it because I know that I want to leave there forever.

My mother and I go for a bike ride together. I push in front of her with long, easy strides as she struggles to keep up, her short, stubby legs peddling furiously. We discuss the scholarship offer from UWO.

“I cried when I read the letter,” my mother confides.

“What does it matter?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“All I have done is study for the past two years. I have no life. I am miserable. I am dying here. But you don’t see it.”

I steal a look at her and see that she is looking down, away from me unable or unwilling to acknowledge my words. It is all about money for my mother. It is the monetary award that my mother values, not the accolades expressed in the accompanying letter. She doesn’t value my feelings because to acknowledge my pain would mean actually doing something to help me, including letting me go out of town for university though it will cost something financially, and that she will not do. She will not give me my life. It is up to me to take back my life.

A few days after that bike ride, my mother asks me if I want to go to Scotland and represent the family at my cousin’s wedding, and I agree. I know this is compensation for not supporting my need to go away for post-secondary study, which will cost twenty times the amount as a plane ticket to Scotland. I accept the offer because it is at least a temporary escape from London, Ontario, my family, and the sexual assault that occurred there.


 

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