Bullying occurring in a relationship kills any romance that once was alive. My feet have walked in safety, I walked in love before, and I know what it’s like to feel the grass under my feet, or the water flowing between my toes. I even felt the sand tickle them. But there is something about anger that turns my feet cold. Cold enough that when Cory’s will confines me into submission. I become a hollow tree. His wrath against me wounds me, creating injuries in my body, like holes in the bark. The tree’s sapwood is exposed; the air gets in there, and fungi and bacteria form; that is how a tree becomes hallow. The effects of abuse corrode my inside until there is nothing left. My spirit knows a more lavish escape, what freedom there is to scan an open field that looks big enough to engulf me. I long to feel safe again. All I want to do is run through the meadow until I can’t run any longer and throw myself down on my back and become part of the sky.
“You bitch”. Corey said. I walked away, no sense in engaging with words like that. My parents never spoke to each other or me that way. I felt as though I’m choking on my heart. I went outside, the forest looked ideal for times like this. I found a special hideaway place, where peace and gentleness were emitted from the large tree. I brushed myself off from sitting too long in the dirt and looked at our pond, such a beautiful place—I wonder why he gets so angry.
Our pond is enormous. It reminds me of the Cottage; when I was six years old, my mother got out the suitcase and pulled out my favourite pink bathing suit with the cool silky buttons on the front. Whenever I saw my bathing suit, I knew it was time to go swimming in the lake. I couldn’t put my bathing suit on fast enough. I overheard my sister and cousins laughing and screaming running down the bank to the lake. I ran so fast to catch up to them that you could see the sand fly from my feet.
“Supper’s going to be ready soon. Will you be eating at the table?” I asked with an undertone of resentment. He looked up from his game, stared at the table, “Oh, look at what we have here, all set up nice,” he got up, washed his hands and ate. I had so much to share with him, a story from work, what Dakota the dog did in the field while he rounded up the sheep, how I met his Aunt Deidra while I got the mail. We had a lovely walk talking about how much they made from selling another three horses. “The goats had no water when I got home; wanna tell me how come?” “I meant to tell you I can’t fit the two hoses together, one of them is broken or missing a piece,” I said. He got up, “come with me.” I followed him out back where the hoses were; he picked them up and forcefully put them together, then turned the water on and filled the basin. “Tell me you can’t be that stupid.” I looked at the hoses, “I guess I just didn’t have the strength to get them to attach. I thought they didn’t fit together.” I pleaded. He chuckled, and went back inside to the table.
I didn’t say anything what was there to say? He got up put the dishes in the sink and reminded me to take out the garbage, if I could handle that and went back to his game— Alone again, I did the dishes, and took out the garbage on my way out for an evening walk.
The frogs were louder than usual. All singing in unison, I could hardly hear the crickets’ chirping. I feel the rocks under my shoes. The stars brilliantly bright tonight, one swooped across the sky, I stopped at the edge of the pond, A moose stood staring at me. Beautiful creature. I walked back into the house. He was still playing his game. “Are you coming to bed soon?” I asked gently. “No, you go ahead, I’ll be there when I’m good and ready.” I wanted to tell him about the moose, and the shooting star, the sound of the frogs in an orchestra, and the crickets that couldn’t compete but what are words when they echo back at me? I drew a bath and poured bath salts with rose petals in the tub. I dreamed of when we bathed together, his huge feet in the air amongst the bubbles and my feet embracing his. Those intimate moments were stolen by drugs and games.
There is an agony in the marriage. Pain that ice a pond in summer. And the sudden sting that jolts me where my feet freeze. I remember when I was a child, I was walking with my mother and my sister from a full day at the lake. A bicyclist was barrelling towards us, my sister ran away into the pasture and my mother jumped to the side— and me? My feet wouldn’t budge. They were frozen and I couldn’t move. I got run over by the bike, a tire mark scraped me from my leg to my forehead. My mom picked me up from the ground and carried me to the house. It was a long way up the hill, I am loved.
“You did it again Trudy, you put the toilet paper the wrong way, you stupid or somethin?” He yelled from the bathroom. The toilet paper roll, how could I forget. He continued to bellow at me and slammed the door. I felt like crawling into the mattress hoping he wouldn’t hurt me. I woke up to his feet touching mine. I felt punched.
Our feet take us on many adventures. I didn’t know my feet would take me through a wedding and be deceived in my steps realizing the groom’s addiction turned against me and eventually beat me. I blame the addiction and not my ex-husband because addiction is a sickness that kills the heart of its victim. It’s better to tread carefully and lovingly through life. Eventually, I had no choice but to leave with the clothes on my back and our baby in my arms. My feet carried us to safety.
I was getting ready for a morning walk when I found one sock on the floor. So, I checked my jeans, the bed, the bathroom, the couch no sock. So, I started to crawl underneath the covers, trying to find the matched pair. Do you ever get mornings like that where you cannot seem to get it together, and socks randomly disappear? So, I found a different colour sock and wore a mismatched pair rationalizing that today’s athleisure style of sweatpants and design colours can make my fashion trend during Covid 19.
Speaking of the Coronavirus, surely this pandemic storm will calm someday. At least I have faith that it will. We live in turbulent times; however, the storm of Covid 19 is one with several different views. Some of my family see Covid as a hurricane, some as a blizzard, and others like thunderstorms. I happen to think Covid 19 is like a flood, the damage is long, and the renovations are troublesome.
My class starts later in the day, a great relief from the clamour in my head. Hiking and being at the lake inspire me.
I land at the edge of the lake watching ducks float by, such a surreal moment; that is the best kind of inspiration a piece of poetry flew out of my fingers onto the page.
As the words pour out, I am careful not to bring my work into the page, careful not to convey what should not be said. But sometimes, when I am staring at giants who won’t back down, I crumble in tears. It’s one thing to walk out with mismatched socks and hike to clear my head; it’s another thing to try to balance my work life with the under-the-cover giants that seem to have more of a hold than I can explain.
That’s where my Professor comes in with guided exercises. First, the writing exercises help us go beyond the emotional stuff, bringing forward art from the giants in life, like Covid, like addictions, stress or grieving. Soon the poem takes shape, and the art of words dance on the surface of the water.
What You Do
How easily it is to shut off noise
For creatures who aren’t bound to understand
right and wrong
The water that flows to us
Water is energy,
Hydrogen, water, H20
Think about the input
Of the world of stars around you all this
Power passes through you
Around you of grace, curse, change
Transference of matter, a smile
A frown the current of light waves flowing
As humans pass our way
The yelling of rights
The praying in silence
All make a wave of movement in you
What you have matters
What you do gifts and multiplies
The crying one walking passed
The starving one lying there
The obsessed bound by ejaculated stress
The release only to gain another
Level of chains it leads you
Into traps of matter
That’s poured into your soul.
Will you dance? Or stay trapped in your net?
How to release a duck from oil spills
Is something only two hands can do
Why are you using your hands for seeking to remove
Your head from your heart into a drug
A new start, here I am amidst my greatest masterpiece for trying out this assignment something happens to wreak havoc on my success. Isn’t life like that, though? Indeed it wasn’t easy for many writers and painters in our historical past that somehow started with a less than desirable piece to create. I’m thinking of the great artist and poet Michelangelo. He was very particular in choosing his stone/marble to sculpt. In the case of the marble stone Michelangelo used to sculpt the famous statue called ‘David’, he used old worn-out marble abandoned for more than 40 years, which was ugly and weakened but this very marble turned into the most famous masterpiece. (Mussio, 2015).
Thinking about how history exists in archives, in buildings, in this platform now will be history soon. Time doesn’t exist in the Milky Way. Space is but a geometric, chemistry equation that even between the distances among stars, we can find worlds hide within its darkness the very reality of light within the artists’ soul. I think of this kind of space when I read Leanne Simpson. I wonder if Michelangelo and Simpson can relate to fire and their art, what kind of dialogue would they have?
"“You are here, because you’re in my heart
You are here, because you’re my witness
There are long rays of deepening sun
There is flat blue
Lake wearing prairie
Seed inseminating lake
We’re in my canoe
In my head you built our fire
In real life I fed it my way
i fell grains and tobacco to lake
the long rays of deepening sun
kiss each duck and goose before they leave.” (P 73 Simpson)Simpson, Betasamosake Leanne. “This Accident of Being Lost” (2017). P. 75 III Stealing Back
Red bodies. House of Anansi Press Inc.
The two contrasting artists are vastly different, and yet, they speak of fire. They speak of space— the beauty of worlds between thought and hand that leave marks behind for us to view.
When I think of Jake’s exercise of writing the cheesiest love poem and the saddest poem, I think of an overload of bad words thrown together to make an easy poem. I understand that is not the case; however, whenever Jake gives us an assignment, I find myself writing from a place I didn’t believe existed. Perhaps I found my self-portrait through cheesiness? Thinking of self-portraits, my grandmother in Spain had her self-portrait done by a street artist. I wonder where that painting went when she died. It was beautiful, the street artist captured parts of her she never shared with us. Wrinkles on her face, her lips pursed, her intense gaze. He even painted crinkles on her red blouse and ensured he painted the tint glow of her hair.
When my son was four years old, my sister sent us a child’s easel with paint. I looked at my son and told him to draw himself. When he finished, he showed me his self-portrait. He painted a cross with Jesus on it and a blue sky. I looked at my son and said, my goodness Benjamin, you drew Jesus. He ran off the chair to play with his Lego. I stared at his painting bewildered. We don’t know much about things until we face trials. My son somehow felt the desire to paint Jesus on the cross; little did I know we both had to carry a heavy one three years later.
It seems a theme in my life of trials that needs attention. My laptop bottom charger hole broke on the inside. It is the last few weeks of school, another mountain deserving of climbing. I was sick before that. I am typing on an old laptop. I feel blessed by it, but the keys are not the same consistency:
Mountains are meant to be viewed from across The way one views between people The taller the height the greater the view The shorter the stare can be painful for you Have you really looked at a problem that had no solution? Accept to endure it until you find your way through I think of these things when I cannot see you It doesn’t matter how far apart we are There are no mountains great enough that I cannot cross To find you, you see my son that is how much I love you.
Instructions: Write the Cheesiest 8-line love poem you can muster I am enamoured by your beauty Holding unto the gift you gave me Your blood pumps in my veins I cry at the explosion Your love plunges me deep Abound with you I make it passed the constellation Where sound, sight, touch and taste, embody me full that runneth over.
Instructions: Write the Cheesiest 8-line saddest poem you can muster
The slice cut deep into my mother’s heart I held my baby in that second we part Shed joy true happiness Lost from the start Where you breathed your first I lost you Here in my arms you lay Birth and loss it seems the same day
Instructions: Braid them together: I am enamored by your beauty The slice cut deep into my mother’s heart Holding unto the gift you gave me I held my baby the second we part Your blood pumps in my veins Shed joy true happiness I cry at the explosion Lost from the start Your love plunges me Where you breathed your first Deep I lost you Abound with you I make it passed the constellation Here in my arms you lay Where sound, sight, touch and taste, embody me full that I am runneth over Birth and loss it seems the same day
The art of writing to me are moments held in time and place where forever scars run deep. They leave a permanent design, much like tattoos accept scars happen. Life’s adventures are when we feel everything and see lines and tears of flesh open in the image and likeness of the greatest artist where time and imprints can’t match this created beauty held at this moment. We are gas, water and other components of stars, and if footprints scar the moon forever of all who stood there, indeed the scars of life are meant to be honoured, uncovered and viewed for what they are. My creative self-portrait is simple— it’s me.
The lyrics are steady and sure. The letter tears through curtains that are torn open, and the beat of the lines are a continuous trail of story and song merged like the ocean merges into the open rivers. Cohen has the beautiful ability to take the drama in life and put it in the song of expression and emotion that speaks to the audience’s core. I can only guess that he has lived a life filled with surprise and wonder, death, and life. He is a legend. I must admit some emotions find words that pour through my fingers:
The One Who Stays
by Christine Reeves
Desire can build stone blocks that form.
love molded in concrete is sorrow pushed down too far.
Can lead a soul bound for heaven thrust hard
These are the storms that make
So much of this life
I want to warn you and shake.
Despite the bells that call you twice
I cradle the child you rejected;
I cradle the man you protected
But tell me, my beloved, how far will you go before
You realize the fire is burning below.
Come now, nestle in my breast.
There is no lacking where love rests.
Back to the class discussion on Leonard ‘s song, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. My thoughts about the song are windows that question the nature of a torn nation. When does a marriage fall into the hands of another? If a countryman sees his beloved share a part of her beauty to another country, is this not betrayal? Surely as it rains in the middle of a storm, the realization of death of one who cannot recover from such a loss is truly one who has no redemption.
I don’t think a person starts by writing; I think art comes when we have a thirst to incorporate what we don’t dream into lives that take form. Maybe the story builds from there like the swelling of a lake. We cannot contain the words that flood us, like standing in a puddle. We either have to take our rubber boots off or keep them on and pour the story down into the page.
Maybe that is what any artist sets out to do. If we look at the artist Marcel Duchamp and his transformation fountain from a urinal, what is he trying to tell us?
I think it depends on what a person sees. One can can see something to piss on or see a fountain that brings forth water? How do we perceive others? What are we really looking at? I know that judging a person can change a person’s whole life by other’s perceptions. I think art is like that. I can tear a piece apart if I saw it had no value or birth in it. We create for the very art of producing what we love. We love the moment of our lives and everything that functions to sustain us.
Part of that is how our body works. We piss, we poop, we fart and burp, do we focus on the obvious? I often think kids do. I remember my son laughing with his friend in the back seat singing, “beans beans the musical food that makes you toot and not to poop.” I happen to believe that most boys don’t grow up fully until the age of 70. Maybe that is where the ‘grumpy man’ syndrome derives? I know women don’t grow old until they hit their 80s. I say this because that is when the craziness of menopause calms down to a stop.
I think these things are worth talking about when I think of art.
It was a beautiful day; for a 2-hour walk, I encountered various expressive birds early in the morning. All were singing their songs that I would love to write the lyrics if I understood their language. Finally I landed through the hills, down the valleys, to the lake. Early in the morning is the perfect time to regroup before the day of work. I find mornings the best time to free myself of unwanted dialogue inside my head and open the flood gates of creative inspiration where I drink words from the added oxygen of my soul.
I enjoyed the peaceful rest gazing over the lake, a red hovercraft glazed towards shore a bit of distance right where I was. This suspicious creature had binoculars and was staring over me; at first, I thought he was staring at me, but I wasn’t about to make this about me. I casually sat there examining this new encounter and wondered what he was up to this early in the morning. Then, I heard a loud POP. The geese came from behind me in a frantic furry flying in all directions honking for their life. You’d think with that kind of sound, one would jump or run away. It was that loud. All this frenzy was before 8:00 AM.
They honked in great dialogue of seeking refuge and safety. The man in the hovercraft scanned and another POP. A few yards away there were morning people in the park, “What is that sound?” the woman loudly asked in alarm. The man walking towards his mower walked over to her and said words, but I couldn’t hear it. Then there were two more POPs and more geese franticly scattered in all directions away from the shores and the park behind me.
If you are like me and are up early in the Okanagan Valley and wind up at the lake during times they manage the population of our geese, don’t be alarmed. They are keeping our beaches and water cleaner. However, if you have any further thoughts or questions, you can contact them.
It sounded like a gun and I am sure the residents who live nearby understand what is happening. I gathered since it wasn’t a gun that this was a way to keep the geese away from the shores and the parks. Of course, I had to go further. I looked up the City of Kelowna and found a few things about Goose Management in the Okanagan Valley. This kind of scare sound doesn’t hurt the geese, but it certainly hurt my ears and made my heart pound. If you are curious check out how the City of Kelowna manages the geese population, here are the links:
I appreciate the city’s efforts to keep the public areas clean. I am grateful, and a bit sad for our fellow geese; however, we must share our space and unfortunately for our geese, it is not always a tranquil environment to be when mixed with the creatures of the earth. I happen to believe that they understand that sometimes we are alarmed in life and we get scattered, but not to worry, life is unpredictable. What an astounding fact because predictability steals our song.
I can’t find this exercise? I think I have been cocooning? I do enjoy her comic strips though.
I like to think of her inspiration like this:
“An inspirational word is gold melting in the kettle. The sulphur alone can burn creativity as easily as words that are never said are wasted in steam.”
by Christine Reeves
My goodness, I love my quote. Is it vain to like your own quote? I wonder how many gold particles fill the air? My sister and nieces bought gold facial masks. They were beautiful on our faces. It didn’t feel any different on my face except that I panicked, thinking the mask would never come off.
This reminds me of a movie called ‘The trouble with Angels,’ with actress Hayley Mills, about Plaster-of-Paris. The movie scene is where Mary Clancy (played by Hayley Mills), and her friend decide to play this practical joke on a classmate, they pretend to give this classmate a facial; they put a straw in the girl’s mouth and then paste the plaster all over her face which unbeknownst to her was Plaster of Paris that hardened. It was a horrible nightmare for me to watch. I actually panicked during that episode. Just the idea of someone plastering Plaster of Paris on one’s face then have it harden. Think of that for a while. I am not a claustrophobic person, but I am still haunted by that scene. This is one of those memories that has never left me.
I feel as though my reading and writing need more attention. I miss my inner voice. I wonder when she will come out? Maybe the writer in me has flown to Jupiter wandering backwards than forwards.
John Ashbury’s Poem The Chateau Hardware Exercise: Mix John Ashbury’s poem one line his then one line mine and voila! Then take your lines and put them all together this is what I got:
by Christine Reeves
The gated chickens and fenced fields
Where everything has its place
In the mind of cultural doors
Flocked freely away and back again
Some all at once, some scattered.
The ravens shadowed a certain sense of freedom
Birds, unlike people, are driven by hunger, people
easily go mad within walls and gates
bound by laws--- break them
within boundaries free from social
Makes me think of the restrictions during this pandemic, in a sense isolation is rather challenging don’t you think? Writing is in a sense the greatest solace and the greatest company. This makes me smile.
Okay, I cannot stop there; what about this Russian author, named Saunders? I am interested enough now to want to read his favourite short story called, “The Overcoat, by Nikolai Gogol. He says it’s his favourite because it’s “funny and sad, and I think it’s the way God actually thinks of us.” (Saunders) I wonder if that’s true? I wish I had the time to read the short story. I will. When space opens, and I find a corner of desired dreams where I cannot sleep, I will read the Overcoat.
There are many authors that some won’t enjoy. but the author’s that touch my imagination at the heart of their song in life, is a true artist that leaves me begging for more ‘story.’
by Christine Reeves
I haven’t been home since December. My friend had a double mastectomy then had to get her second knee replaced. She was hard and heavy into sport; this created havoc on her knees. She has become one of my closest friends, not because she is kind and loving (which helps), but because she genuinely cares. I mean, who else can put up with my drama of crying all night because I can never reach my son. She lets me be myself, even when I fall apart. Her husband died last year of cancer what are the odds? She is strong, one of the strongest women I know besides my other good friend. She has recovered from cancer. What does that say about my friends? One would think that my friends are radioactive or stepped both feet into a storm that bleeds a hurricane, but they have this amazing appreciation for life. It’s like watching these two write their life testimony while under the wheel of a semi-truck. They are both on the mend.
Conquering cancer is like conquering whatever mountain you find the hardest to climb. Mount Everest seems fitting for their success in battling the monster.
Clicking into the digital brain of our class. Everyone is making conversations. I wonder if they all know each other, or is it just me who feels like I have walked into a play and caught the last half hour of it? I am curious about spirals, but I missed the idea of it. I feel cheated; I wonder what I was doing when the Professor shared his spiraling ideas on paper.
I missed the meaning of the spiral talk because I was looking outside at the sun shimmering on the snow. The sound of the wind and the Canadian flag blowing back and forth, almost like I’ve stepped into its sail travelling to an unknown land within my imagination.
What do you hear when I write about the sound of your footsteps
crunching through the cold, dry snow
or the sound of diamonds glistening upon the fresh powdered surface
where it looks like stars on top?
I can write about the wind, but will you hear the sound?
I write when the wind pushes away from me into the trees,
and the plastic bag is caught up in the branches.
The crinkly sound it makes as I pass by.
Can you hear it?
When I write about the rain when it hits the lake,
what sound can you hear? It might make a
sound like E or E flat;
depending on where the sun is shining,
it can turn to a B by the brightness
of the sun slapping upon the water.
What about the sparkles of the melted snow
on the side of the pavement
where it glistens as I
the wheels of my car rumbles and rolls over it;
did I describe it?
Can you hear it?
I don’t know.
Writing is a quirky world where describing things is wrapped up into a ball like the earth filled with water, electricity, and mirth. Somehow, I don’t laugh anymore unless my nerves the stress of the day is overwhelming. Like when I was at the bar with a friend before COVID, and we were chilling before our writer’s group. We talked about Africa and how in Heaven it would be cool to lie with a lion and a lamb and not get eaten. Then my mind wandered. I thought about giraffes. How would that be if a bunch of giraffes were in the middle of our streets running wildly down our highways? Their necks are so long that they would get caught in the wires. How does that look? I exploded in laughter. I understand this was not a funny sight at all, to see giraffes caught up in street lights and wires with their long necks twirling around like some wild African nightmare.
It was a strange and funny random thought that relieved my stress. By the end of the evening, we were both laughing so hard that we couldn’t contain ourselves. We didn’t even have any alcohol.
This is what a studio of creativity looks like. Humans gather to talk about their favourite authors. I wonder what authors are my favourite today? When I was a little girl, it was A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh; this is what he has to say about the writing process:
“Ideas may drift into other minds, but they do not drift my way. I have to go and fetch them. I know no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere.”
‘Lucy Maud Montgomery.’ She fascinates me, mostly because I relate to the exquisite language of her imagination and to see her house and her things make my heart skip a beat. I want so much to be a writer like her and engage my characters that put life into the world of my past budding girlhood. Then it was my sister’s book called ‘Virgins’ by Caryl Rivers. My dad threw the book away just when my sister and I were halfway through the novel. I was angry, my sister still has left over animosity towards our dad.
I wanted to enjoy Shakespeare in high school, but somehow our English teacher beat the language to death, which made me literally kill Shakespeare’s ghost. I wonder if I read Romeo and Juliet again, if I would feel the same way?
These students in this class seem to be advanced in their speech and writing. I fear I have taken the wrong turn getting here? Was choosing this class a mistake? Oh shit! Here I go again, thinking about myself. No wonder my mother calls me selfish every now and then. Somehow, trauma and suffering can cause havoc on emotions and health in a person.
“We won’t have a formal critique,” Jake said. Did he really say what I think he said? I never met a Professor like this before. How radical, how exciting. I am curious and completely engaged. This is rather a comfortable place, a place where… if I were naked in my writing, no one would strip it further to the point of killing my words to the bone. I will not worry; this is dialogue of creative minds. Open the idea and look inside, you hold a delightful find.
These authors, Saunders, is he Russian? And who is Flannery O’Connor? My desire to read these authors and learn who they are might push my language into the abyss of endless words that may break through the blocks that blur.
Curious and more curious, I found some quotes written by my favourite authors that interest me in this writing process: “Smell is the closest thing human beings have to a time machine.” by Caryl Rivers. Now that is profound. It is hard to describe the sweet, seedy taste of a strawberry, or describing the scent after fresh rain in spring, thinking about fresh rain, that is a smell that if I could bottle it up and sniff it daily, I think I would drop from the sky down into the soft tall meadows of wet dew seeping through my dress. How I love a blanket of nature enfolding me in a kiss.
How about this one: “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” By Lucy Maud Montgomery. My goodness, that quote makes me think of a wonderful mother I know well who was recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. What a horrible thing to think about at this moment. Imagine this beautiful mother one day won’t remember anything and will lose everything! That thought is enough to bury all the memory files, letters, historical facts of her dear family that were ever recorded thrown away into Niagara falls. I cannot believe that words can disappear from connections of a highly functional and articulate brain such as hers. You know what calms me at the moment? It is the realization that even though all is lost at some point in the future for this dear woman, is the very fact that love is found written in the heart of a tender and gentle soul of a good mother.
I find myself in this dark dense platform. Unsure of myself, I check my camera and volume. Are they looking through the darkness too? I hear clamouring in the kitchen. Voices echo behind me; the light is too bright I should move to the couch. I have been anticipating this class for a millennium. It seems all my other classes of writing led to this platform, this day, and this hour. It is 2:00 PM. My heart races. I wonder how I can ever reach my son. I haven’t spoken to my little one since February. The pandemic changed our time together like I am in one galaxy and he’s in another, and his dad is this big super massive black hole between us. I try to forgive. I am standing in the middle of a page. I am the page The spoken words surround me. The crowds are cheering. They shoot words at me randomly—not all at once my pen bleeds The page is turned the other way. I see my baby I run to reach him I lay motionless Lost my air everyone walks away This is me loving you by taking the blows you didn’t know. Did you? This love pours out in memory and the words found me. I was on my knees in the Adoration Chapel. You went through my heart. Saw through my eyes, and we shared a common bridge of time.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes domestic violence as “The situation in which someone you live with attacks you and tries to hurt you.”
Violence is often seen through the victim’s eyes; however, the mind, mouth and other senses fail because abuse is not defined by others or by the state’s history. It isn’t defined by social structures, physical structures or even by culture. What does that mean? Domestic violence isn’t defined except for those abused; even then, it isn’t clear due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who are being abused cannot recall events properly because most suffer from traumatization. That is why we have a rabbit hole that systems of “state” cannot resolve.
Understanding Domestic Violence through an Okanagan College Student’s Experience
I interviewed Cecile, a mature student at Okanagan College, on March 7-9, 2021. “There is a rabbit hole when it comes to defining hurt,” Cecile explained. She is a victim of domestic violence.
Cecile is a mother to her 15-year-old son, who was taken from her when he was 7 years old. Cecile was accused of thwarting access for over 8 years. Her abusive ex-husband was granted full custody and was able to take him to another Province by the Judge’s order in Supreme Court before any proper trial was set.
“My son, who was 7 years old at the time, was ripped from his home, his school, his appointments, piano classes, Tae kwon do, minor baseball, first communion and from all his friends with no formal investigation, and no evidence. My lawyer said to me in a little meeting room at the courthouse, “all you have to do is tell them that you will never go to the police again, and you will keep your son.” I left the courthouse with a final order in a matter of minutes. My ex-husband got approval by the court to move our son out of the province without any regard to our son and the implication this would have on him.
“We finished packing his toys and things from home that my son wanted. We both had a few minutes together before his dad was coming to pick him up. I looked at my beautiful son and asked him if he wanted anything else in his bag. My son fell to the floor, lost his air and said, “but mommy, you won’t fit in the bag.” I held and rocked him until it was time for him to go. I looked at him and said, “where there is a goodbye, there is always a hello.” That was the last I saw him at home. After that, I battle to communicate with him ever since. I see him for 2 to 3 weeks in the summer and every other Christmas, that is until COVID 19,” Cecile said.
This is what her ex-husband did once her son was out of the Province:
He cut the landline phone.
He got a cell phone.
He explained that their WIFI connection was poor where they live. Cecile understood this since she fled with their baby from that very home to the women’s shelter.
COVID 19 and Interprovincial Parenting
“Since they took my son, I have been at the mercy of his dad and the institutions that keep the abuse going. Covid adds to the stress because when there are lockdowns and not hearing from them creates further concern. At least I felt comforted knowing he was safe at school. Still, with the pandemic, my son is home with poor WIFI service and no landline phone, every time I try to communicate to my son’s father, I am coming up against my own trauma, but I push through that and keep trying to communicate,” Cecile said.
The current Covid pandemic has changed all access for Cecile and her son. Her son suffers severe anxiety due to the pandemic and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“My ex-husband has stated that travel is not a good idea due to Covid. My son also expressed to me in brief moments of connection that he is too afraid to travel and come to another Province. He hasn’t gone to school consistently since the Pandemic. I signed forms for my son to have therapy for his anxiety. I am left in the dark. I bought my son a cell phone which includes unlimited data, but my calls don’t get through. I send text messages, but hardly any response,” Cecile shared.
What Cecile has learned about her situation is that state systems will not put a majority of people at risk by revealing the corrupt system we have here in Canada.
“The only thing that works for me is my faith in God. Despite oppression and abuse. God’s love for us will take care of my son going forward during the pandemic.”
Why is Domestic Violence so Puzzling?
Abuse is puzzling. The degree of violence becomes more confusing, especially when the institutions themselves deny any abuse. It was abuse when Cecile’s ex-husband, the agencies and courts stripped her of her finances, her communication with her son, and her visits. Their child has become the tool her ex-husband uses to get back at her, with the systems’ approval that should have protected them. The violence continues.
“I am told I can see him anytime in the town and Province where he lives. The court order reads that I have generous access. What that does not solve is domestic violence or how the violence is affecting my son and me. It does not solve the fact that my ex warned me that I will not see him anymore than I do now if I move closer,” Cecile explained.
The court order forces Cecile to make access arrangements with her ex to see their child. This puts more stress on Cecile, who must follow the court order. Why? “Because I have to deal with my ex, who is abusive, to agree when and if I can see my son,” Cecile said.
The political stance on structural violence is the core where internal family violence becomes the violence of the structure in which we are governed. Stein says it well,
“Value and legitimacy of the various kinds of states and state agencies and of the state as such. Careful consideration of the standard theories leads repeatedly to findings that state values are secondary and derivative. Value accrues primarily to personal and community characteristics such as liberty, conscience, cultural creativity, and religious conviction. The state puts itself at risk whenever it goes up against those.” (XIV, Stein)
“Stopping the violence” slogans are misleading.
Cecile’s experience in finding help reveals that many hotlines, societies, and non-profit agencies read that they can call a number and get help immediately. Cecile stated that she does not doubt that abused mothers get help, but the slogan, ‘Stop the Violence,’ is misleading.
“There is no such thing as stopping the violence When I went to the women’s shelter, they had me fill out a detailed form so that they could assess the level of risk. They provided help and a plan to get housing and direction to stay safe. However, these very agencies do not help when it comes to custody and access within the legal system. Legal Aid is what parents use who cannot afford a lawyer. These institutions fail so many who are domestic violence victims,” Cecile said.
What do Mothers and their children need when they are threatened by violence?
They need the following:
Changing the law on how MCFD (Ministry of Children and Family Development) is governed.
Financial support for proper legal counsel.
Better Government systems to work with parents, who are trained professionals to assess and work with both parents so that therapy is mandatory for the whole family.
Donations/funding to help mothers see their children who are far away.
Ways to communicate and co-parent safely with an abusive ex-husband, this is not possible; however, the courts and institutions force it.
Cecile could not afford the travel costs there and back for her son’s flights and her own. Planning vacation time around her ex-husband’s access dates (which were not negotiable) was a problem for her when she had to book her vacation time. This added more stress, made her sick where she had to go on sick leave numerous times.
“It is costly to pay for travel, lodging, medicine and food. I couldn’t carry on with the salary I was making. I decided to go back to school to gain better employment so I can afford to see my son.”
What Can a parent do to keep the Connection with their Child when there Is power imbalance?
Cecile shared what she does to keep hope alive and ways she communicates:
“I keep trying to call and tell my son I love him and goodnight. When I have seen my son before Covid, he told me he gets those messages even if it does not show.
I keep a journal of letters to my son. Words of inspiration and words that express my love for being his mother. Information about me, traditions we celebrated, memories we share. One day he will read them.
I continue to pray for my son and his dad every day. I pray blessings over my son every night. I write and speak of my gratitude for the gift of my son. I rely on my faith in God while my son and I are oppressed.
I keep a box of treasures that I find that my son will smile over for the different stages of his life. Treasures he will have. I also have a keepsake of memories to help him remember the loving and fun moments we had. I also kept his milestones in sports and the special CD he made in his Grade 1 piano class.
Hope for a change of Systems and Agencies when it comes to domestic violence.
We can change state agencies and state systems; however, the challenge I have for all of you is how? The Community of families is our politics. And if there is violence within the community, the very political platforms that allow violence because it’s riskier not to what does that say about our laws? What does that say about MCFD and the Courts?
The truth of what matters is that Cecile did the right thing. She did everything she could legally and within the system to protect herself and her son. The structure failed her son, but as a mother, she did not.
“The state structures failed us. My ex-husband who hurt us, has my son. The very structure and laws silenced my son and I,” Cecile said.
Here is a piece of Cecile’s writing that she wrote in one of her classes:
(Dialogue between a mother and her son)
I tried to write a dialogue with you, little one—but I erased it. Too much emotion flooded my heart. I had your toys and boxes of memories in my car, sitting in the front seat. You always wanted to sit in the front seat. In the box are toys that made you smile; I can still hear giggling. It’s the joy of Christmas lying inside the box, your favourite toy Sheriff Woody beside the other toy Jessie from Toy Story. I parked my car at Value Village—me and my box of memories.
The sign read: OPEN AT 11:00 AM. It was 10:30 AM
It took courage to go to Value Village, little one.
I sat in front of the closed doors—it was hard to drive there.
I even took a picture of our memories,
A story to be told
You warned me that you would be going far, far away.
That I would be alone
I didn’t understand
You told me so
Yet, I did not know
I held you, caressed your forehead.
“Mommy, I’m afraid you will be on the street with no money. What will happen to you?”
Oh, dear, my little one.
“Mommy has God, and He will take care of me.”
“I’m not ready to be a saint, aren’t I too little?”
I take one of your finger puppets.
“Let go of everything, take the picture and then let go,” I remember my friend Anne saying that to me.
There were five finger puppets.
I kept one. It was the little chicken because it had a loose string.
“Can you fix it, mommy?”
“I can fix anything.”
The little chicken said the sky is falling.
The sky fell for us, when you were taken.
I kept the little chicken.
Stein, Edith, translated by Sawicki, Marianne. “An Investigation Concerning the State.” Edith Stein. An Investigation Concerning the State. Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc.: 2006. SBN 0-935216-39-1. Book.
Cecile, (remains anonymous) is a mature student at Okanagan College who was willing to share her experiences living with domestic violence.
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