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Suffering and Silliness

Tuesday I got a day full of women. Mostly. I did a day shift at the women’s centre in the “pathologized inner city” and then I went to Judith Thompson’s new play, Body and Soul.

We open the women’s centre doors at 10 am and close ’em at 4:45.  It’s a big room with three couches in a u-shape in the front, and about eight big, round tables seating between 8 and 10 women. There’s a big industrial kitchen at the back, separated from the drop-in by a cafeteria-style counter and folding door. Lunch yesterday was split pea soup with ham (or smoked tofu for vegetarians), veggie wraps and salad. The staff serve all the women who are seated at the tables (or along the windows or on the floor when all the chairs are in use). When everyone is served, women who come in later can go right to the counter and get a plate.  plastic forks are offered by a woman at the door. you can get packets of salt and pepper there, too.

S. didn’t have any lunch. She swayed in already angry. -Can i get more salt?- she said.

-you sure can-i told her and reached for another handful

I wasn’t fast enough. -What is this a third world country? she snarled. I looked at her, my hand still in the box with the salt packets, I was about to say something–something like–hey it’s right here, there’s lots don’t worry–

or — settle down, honey, ya catch more flies with honey than ya do with vinegar– which woulda got us nowhere. all she needs is some comfy clean white woman telling her how to behave. We don’t know her story. She’s been coming in for a four years, and we just learned her name.  Her suffering is stark. She is a red, raw tangled mass of rage. The drugs don’t numb so much as coat her with spikes. -don’t come near me-

She is fear and sorrow and she has been abandoned. She turned from me and hollered -oh my god, oh my god–all the way down the length of the drop-in.

She was not praying. or was she?

I don’t know what happened at the kitchen, but there was more shouting and then she returned toward the door, followed by the cook, trying to say something, but I couldn’t hear her, because S was yelling.

-don’t touch me, don’t assault me, fucking abuse–

she grabbed a handful of salt and pepper packets from the cart at the door. i reached out and took her arm (i shouldn’t have, of course, i’m sorry, S). She whirled toward me, spilled her paper cup of coffee screamed in my face

-don’t touch me-

whirled her pain and the rest of her coffee out the door up the street. She is in flames. a trail of fire and spark burning everything she touches. She is burning alive. but at least no one can touch her.

We have to write about these kinds of things in the “incident Log”. under the section “Staff Recommendations” i wrote, “Oh, jeez. i don’t know. Just pour on the sunshine and keep other women from stumbling across her path.”

three hundred women a day come into that place. There’s a piano and there’s a big kitchen, and two fantastic cooks, and there are showers and a clothing room. We don’t fix anything. We give out band-aids and put out small fires. We don’t stop the suffering at all. we can barely contain our own.

A woman told me of an abscess under her arm, and the rat in her hotel room that she won’t tell the management about because, “they’ll kill it and i’d just feel really bad, it’s just trying to live, too”.

There is a growing number of m-f trannies who come in. most of the women don’t like it, but we now have a policy that we have to tell the women that we are ‘inclusive’ and that we have to call the trannies “she”. I don’t do either of those things. I call them “he”. That’s what they are. They are men. I can’t argue to a woman who has come to a women’s centre for refuge from men that she must accept them because they say they are women. men say lots of things to gain access to women. Can’t we have one space in this whole city that women can share with each other? One narrow, crowded room?

A surreal moment–a bunch of men standing and sitting at a table in the women’s centre, in various types of ‘female’ dress–talking about facial hair removal. –i had to get my face electrocuted, i have testosterone poisoning, my hairs are thick–said SR. He comes in and plays the piano sometimes. The music is nice. I would rather a woman play it. Women do play sometimes. but not when he’s in the drop-in.

The room is full of the sound of women’s voices. Sometimes i sing, “You are my sunshine” and women will join me in the chorus. I’m not there very often, so when i come it’s a treat for all of us. I’m not tired and worn down by the weight of so many stories to carry.  I sing and juggle the food donations and sometimes women dance together when a familiar song comes on the radio. Women come in with their grandchildren or their children and all the women whose babies have been stolen or grown away from them come around and coo and talk about breasts and diapers and tiny perfect hands.

I was goofing around with a little boy once, he was maybe 6, an Aboriginal boy–his people are Coast Salish. We were fake wrestling, i tickled his ribs, he grabbed my arm, I twirled him around. I had his arm loosely behind him and he said, “this is what the policeman did when he came to my house”. he described the cop twisting his arm behind his back. I let go of the boy’s arm and hugged him. He squirmed and I let him go.

I am implicated.

As we were closing, I asked a woman i’d not met before if she wanted to go with the evening group out to a play. she said, “nah. thanks. but i don’t have a home. i might wanna go if i had a place,” she was all wistful. I asked if she had a place to lay her head tonight. she thanked me and said she knew the shelters and the places with blankets. “There’s people shooting up and stuff…and you have to leave at 7. Thanks, though…I’ll find something,” she said, and then, “what’s your name?”

I said, “Erin, what’s yours?”

“Lizzie.” we shook hands. She gathered up her little backpack and an armful of pastries we had handed out as women left the place for the day, said, “nice to meet you, Erin.”

“you too, Lizzie. Good luck, eh.” The sun had come out at the end of the day and she squinted into it as she headed up the street. There’s another drop-in, for men and women, that’s open later.It’s not so safe for women though. Men tend to prey on women down here. Lizzie knows that. Maybe she’s young enough to be a daughter of mine.

I met my lover afterward to go to a play. it was a collaborative piece. Thirteen Canadian women age 45 and over  from all over the world all across Canada telling the stories of their lives. of our lives. “Body and Soul” is by Judith Thompson, who is probably my favourite playwright.

These women told us about childhoods and mothers and shouted the names of their grandmothers and great grandmothers and told us about standing their ground and about running away. They told us about the joy of being a woman, of the defining rituals of marriage and motherhood (whether or not we enter those institutions ourselves, they shape our lives).

They told us about racism–one Brown woman was beaten for falling in love with a Black man. One woman was left behind by her friends family because she was Jewish and they were not. Another woman lost her language because her mother was whipped for speaking Cree in residential school. They sang songs of their growing up years, songs of resistance. Songs of rebellion. Of solidarity. One woman, a Cree woman originally from Saskatchewan, sang the Women’s Warrior Song, that we sing here every February 14 during the Women’s Memorial March.

Shot through every story was the crucible of male violence. Every woman on that stage.

“A brilliant and kind man when he was sober, became violent and delusional when he was drinking, which was nearly every day”

“My aunt beat me. My uncle beat me. For every little thing.”

A story from one about being a monitor for college residence. She got a call one night to attend to a sixteen-year-old girl, who up until that night had been a virgin. She’d gone to a frat party. Boys were lined up outside a bedroom door where she was kept. the storyteller got there, the girl was wrapped in a sheet, wandering dazed and alone in a hallway.

Victims. Survivors. Resistant. Powerful. Hilarious. Damaged. Healed. Aging. Wise. Silly.Loving. Enraged.

Lots of laughter.

-I have two children. One is a rocket scientist, the other is an idiot. They trade places every other day.-

-When I got cancer, my depression lifted. But I have to tell you, using cancer as an anti-depressant has some very serious side-effects-

Lots of tears.

-this is my Great Aunts’ wooden spoon. She used it for stirring lemonade. It is the only thing I have left of her-

These women. All the women all day long, told the same stories. We are from everywhere and we know different songs, different languages, different rituals and stories shape us–but we are the same. We all of us grow in the shadow of a mans world. We are like the heather that grows in the dark cold of winter–ground cover that spreads over rocks and blossom brave purple flowers that grin up at the rain. We know each others’ stories, with all of those variations. They are the stories of women growing stronger together — like irises extending our roots above ground–or hot ginger below. We are weeds. Bermuda grass and horsetails growing where we are not allowed. Taking our space in spite of/because of

Burning alive.

I had a day filled with women. While i was pre-menstrual, yet.

Burning.

And alive.

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About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, under-employed, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. I play accordion better than I did, and i'm learning the concertina. Slowly.

5 responses »

  1. I really enjoyed reading this — felt like I was there, and at the same time was totally jealous that I wasn’t. And I love your Canadian voice; you make me homesick for the true North strong and free.

    Reply
  2. Oops — that first comment was mine, but I was logged in as my student teacher-self.

    Reply
  3. Feminist poetry; the real story of women in Canada. Evocative of Nellie’s in Toronto, the environment that I have known. We never forget – and it never changes.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mary. I still hope it will change, though. not the humour and courage and lovely soft curves–but the degradation, the violence, the crumbling capitulation to mens’ demands…that’s gotta change. onward.

      Reply

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