About six months ago the anxiety surfaced after someone added me to a newly created Facebook group for the 1991 St. Malachy’s High School Graduating Class 20 Year Reunion. Fear ebbed through my body when it happened.
While high school was everything everybody always says it is, it’s not always what people see that is important but that of what people don’t know that comes to light and must be dealt with in an honest, empathetic and forgiving manner.
The first taste of physical violence I ever experienced as a female being targeted by a male was in grade three. A good female friend of mine, who is still a good friend of mine to this day, had a fight with me, well a fight as best as two nine year old girls can have at yelling and pulling each others hair on a front lawn. Kids fight. Good friends fight. BUT her older brother came out the front door. He was 13 years old and twice my size. He kicked me in the legs. He kicked me really hard and proceeded to harass and maim me all through elementary and middle school whenever he saw me walking on the sidewalk alone. He’d surround, throw rocks and worked very hard at intimidating me for years.
Violence from that day forward seemed to follow and engulf me. It wasn’t until I moved away from Saint John at age 19 that the violence that men cast on me ceased to exist which brings me to the 20 year reunion that I attended on Saturday night.
I had a boyfriend in high school, a boyfriend who slapped my face, punched my stomach and yelled so much that he would start vomiting from rage in front of me. On more than one occasion I felt his wrath. On more than one occasion I feared for my life and also feared for his life because of his home life. Only those friends closest to me knew what was happening and in December of grade 12, I gathered enough courage to break free from this person even though we shared homeroom class together. While our two year relationship wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t healthy either. I really thought all men who were attracted to me were violent and controlling and that was just how it was. It made me turn on myself and hurt myself and it made me have eyes in the back of my head. It made me run from men who were genuinely kind, honest, gentle and caring. It clouded my judgement.
I don’t know of any woman who has never been hit, raped and/or emotionally abused. NOT ONE! And this is Canada people where men and women are supposedly equal and where the laws are supposed to protect us. I can’t count how many of my girlfriends feared for their life at the hands of their boyfriends or some other man in Saint John. I’m not saying that all violence or fighting is bad either. Everyone, men, women and children included experience outbursts or act inappropriately on occasion. Abuse only becomes abuse when it’s repetitive, damaging and controlling and then it can easily turn into an addiction for both the perpetrator and victim.
And it wasn’t just the men who were violent. It was, women too. After breaking free from that boyfriend and him threatening to commit suicide if I didn’t come back and that he’d stalk me if I didn’t come back (which he did for a few months), I did what any fearful 17 year old girl would do and got another boyfriend who was also in my homeroom, who turned out to be not much better than that first boyfriend. Although he wasn’t violent, the controlling aspects existed. After dating this boy for about six weeks I asked him what would happen if I ever got pregnant and he nonchalantly replied that he wouldn’t be around. I broke it off with him that day. And it wasn’t long after that, that the girls in his neighborhood began intimidating me for breaking up with one of their own. And it wasn’t long after that, that both of these ex-boyfriends began verbally harassing me in homeroom and chucking text books at my head and shoulders. I formally requested to be transferred into another homeroom and the principal denied my request. No one in authority did anything to help me. At one high school dance these girls surrounded me, held me in place while this ex-boyfriends sister knocked me out and down to the floor with one fell punch to the face. I immediately stopped venturing into the deep North End and West Side and stuck to the uptown core and East Side of the city of Saint John as I and a few other girls from the East Side now had targets on our heads.
A teacher witnessed this punch and banned this girl from all future dances. That same teacher, Mr. White, became instrumental, whether he was aware of it or not, in helping me heal during that final year of high school. I registered for a class called Family Living taught by him and researched, wrote and completed a huge term project and even gave a speech on Family Violence. I spent countless hours at the library, writing to government institutions and agencies for statistics and gathering any and all information I could find on domestic violence and abuse. This armed me with the facts while strengthening my shattered self-esteem.
I met another boy in April, who to this day, was the BEST THING that ever could have happened to me at the time. The stalking soon stopped and the violence in my homeroom ceased. That first week we were together we made an agreement that if we ever got so heated that we were going to hit each other that we would walk away from each other and go to our separate homes to cool off instead and talk about it the following day. This happened only once during our two year relationship. Our relationship was youthful and fun. It was exciting. It was honest and best of all, it showed me that men and their male friends were capable of honesty, gentleness, laughter and kindness.
I was raised in a non-violent household. I was raised to treat all people as equals. I was raised to be strong, smart, creative and independent. Violence was not talked about in the seventies, eighties and nineties like it is today. Schools didn’t have rules against violence and bullying. For God sake they still whipped problem students with straps at the elementary school that I attended and segregated the girls and boys during recess and lunch hour to different sides of the playground until I was in grade three in 1984 when something happened and all of sudden we could play in the school yard with the opposite sex.
Most (not all) of the older neighborhood boys were not nice. They once fed me so much alcohol that I blacked out at age 13. I do not know to this day what happened during that hour or two that I don’t remember and I’m probably better off that I don’t remember but I do suspect what did happen. These boys were older and once they took my brand new bicycle and threw it down the sewer grate, damaging it and then pulled it back out and handed it back to me smiling. And the girls with whom these boys hung out with and whom I thought were my friends were not. They stole from me and made my life miserable.
I managed to get away from all of them, by choosing to attend a high school after middle school that none of them were attending out of sheer luck, but as luck would have it about two months into grade ten, the craziness started up again after a few girls started rumors that I was a slut. I WAS STILL a virgin at that time and that rumor decimated and isolated me. Soon after that I got that boyfriend. Sometime in late Grade 11, I began reacquainting myself with some other girls that I used to berry pick with, play skipping and hop scotch with and hide and go seek with on a daily basis as a young child and to this day, those women are the ones I would trust my life with. They were the ones who told me it wasn’t okay to to get hit by boys and that it was okay to end the relationships that were mentally and physically scarring me. They were my courage when I had no strength left to cope.
So when I was added to this Facebook Group all these memories surfaced and they needed to be let out. I’ve made my peace now after all these years.
The 20 Year Reunion Part 2 is coming soon.