A place in time
PHOTO COURTESY PEXELS
Those of us old enough to remember all know exactly where we were 25 years ago this Saturday, December 6. And like most other historic events that stopped time in its tracks – John F. Kennedy’s assassination, 9-11 – at the moment we want to believe the shock wave will be a catalyst in an ideological shift and societal change for the better. But change is rarely that neat and tidy and is apt to come only with a hell of a lot of slow-forming scar tissue.
In a pre-internet world that was devoid of 24/7 news coverage, Twitter, and text messages via cell phones, I was blissfully unaware of the École polytechinque massacre news for about 24 hours, save for vague preliminary reports of shots being fired at the school.
I had pulled an all-nighter, helping my boyfriend set up for a trade show in Place Bonaventure and though I should’ve been tipped off to the magnitude of the tragedy by my inability to find a newspaper anywhere the following morning, I simply headed home to catch a few hours’ sleep.
The enormity of the news only sank in when I later woke and turned on the television to catch the six o’clock news. I’ve always felt guilty that I was oblivious to what was happening to the group of young, female students who, like myself, were studying in a male-dominated field. No, I couldn’t have done anything to stop it but in the need to rationalize something that far beyond logical grasp, the mind works in funny ways.
In the quarter-century that’s passed, how have we evolved following the night in which 14 lives were taken for no better reason than their gender? Well, we’ve just come through a period in Canadian history that, thanks to the flexibility of the English language, will forever be known as ‘Ghomeshigate’. And it’s not that the namesake’s cowardly predilection for abuse and sexual assault were a surprise as much as the ensuing #BeenRapedNeverReported conversation that followed elicited such a global affinity.
Closer to the present, a young woman in Germany was recently beaten with a baseball bat for having the temerity to come to the defense of two young girls who were being harassed by group of men in a fast food restaurant. Her life support was removed on her 23rd birthday.
It’s 2014 and we’re both complacent and continually surprised that women are still repeatedly on the receiving end of abuse and that our laws and societal conventions are absurdly inept at enacting effective change.
I can make my own small contribution to bettering the world by teaching my boys to treat everyone they encounter – women and men alike - with respect and patience. I owe it to those 14 women – we all owe it to them.
By December 8, 1989, I had stopped in at the mostly deserted Concordia University Café X for a cigarette, back in the days when I still smoked and we were still allowed to smoke within the school. I’ve long forgotten the name of the young woman working that shift but her shock of bright pink-orange hair and funky glasses are part of that day’s memories.
Her eyes were swollen from crying and a puddle of coffee lay on the floor surrounded by broken ceramic shards.
“Did you know one of them?” I asked as I knelt down to help her clean up the mess.
“I knew them all,” she responded. “So did you.”