Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Wholesale Failure

By rule I don’t talk about myself.

It has been a simple rule in life to avoid divulging into my traumas. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk your ear off about my passions, societies issues, even my day to day life – but never ever about my past. Sometimes I feel comfortable and allow myself to tell a few stories. Always the good ones, the ones with a slight amount of drama, a small rising action, a climax and a punchline ending. Besides, why should people have the privilege to know my past?

This rule protects me. It protects me from pity, from judgment and most of all it protects me from those people who like to interrupt me and want to one up my past traumas. The people who feel the need to silence me. The great war of the traumaporn.

Although this is a great rule for self-preservation, it is also a alienating rule. Any relationship has missing puzzle pieces, a feeling of untrustworthyness. It makes it easier to walk away from most things because although you had created great memories... they never knew you really. And that leaves some comfort in that I never had to “waste" time by opening up, “I miss you" becomes empty words because they don’t know me and most of all; I never had to worry about my trust being bro- ken and my past being brought up by these people and used as a weapon. I know it sounds like I’ve done horrible crimes. I haven’t. Or at least I’ve never killed anyone or anything that bad. It is more that I’m constantly trying to kill myself but not my body. That everyday I try to recreate the human body I wake up in and repeat the process until I’m happy with the path I’m on currently. I’m getting there, I haven’t had to recreate myself. But I’m getting off topic.

I first learnt about this rule from my mother when I was 15. I had finally snapped under anxiety and depression and was angry. Angry enough to throw so many things in her face in my verbal rage. I screamed at her about this time an ex of hers crawled into my bed when I was 9 and held me down and went to sleep beside me. Her response was shock, her current boyfriend’s response was rage and when my mother went to force herself into my bedroom where I hid and he grabbed her. The night is a blur, but it ended up with me being sent away to the hospital to the mental ward. Once I got out of there, later that week my mom asked if we wanted to go to that guys house for dinner.

I don’t know my facial reaction, but I can still hear the empty “no" that escaped my lips as I walked into my bedroom and felt my body drop limply on the bed. You’ve heard of the saying “don’t ask, don’t tell.”. Well this was my lesson of “don’t tell", don’t tell because they won’t believe you. From then on I was pretty much gone. I was out of the house all the time with friends, at abandoned build- ings with hydro lines hanging to the ground and superstitious teens stepped over them timidly sober but skillfully when drunk. We swam in the hidden quarry and slept outside in tents or 2 km down in the construction sheds. When I went to school I was just a shell. I barely existed in class if I ever went to class. I gave up trying to spend the remaining year at the school of arts, I gave up on the arts. I would go into the subdivisions being developed and jump on trampolines and hot tub hop with friends. As I look back on that, it seemed really simple life. I dealt with the feeling of not being able to open up and the way I was lashing out and learning about this skill came almost naturally. A skill taught to young women everywhere: The skill of staying silent. If you speak out , you are at fault. How dare you expect the per- son who had done you harm be accountable for their actions?

I still remember my last day of going to school. I walked out of a test, crossed the street and hid off in a nearby ditch. I probably thought I was slick, laying in the deep ditch among the tall grass just waiting for the bell. Thinking no one knew where I was as I waited for the end bell with smoke of my cigarettes wafting up above me. It didn’t really matter if they knew where I was, I was leaving. I told my friends goodbye but none of them really believed me I think. I was just acting out. Typical me those days. When the bell rang that it was time to leave and the last of the buses were pulling in to take students home I made my way to the smoking section. My voice was rough, I blamed it on smoking too much and gave some friends hugs goodbye as I headed towards a bus that wasn’t my own, with a forged note that I would be going to so and so’s house.

I did get off at their stop. But I went to the back trails and walked 40 min to the nearest bus station and hopped onto the free bus that took you to the big fair. I know typical. But I knew I could disappear for just a little bit. I was able to befriend a few carnies who wanted to believe that I was 18 like I said. They invited me over to their campers on their breaks, taught me how to beat the rigged games and let me go to the campsite. I’m proud and ashamed to say I was totally safe. The older man treated me like a long lost daughter, probably missing their rreal daughters somewhere out in some other city far away and the younger guys just smoked and drank and swore with me. Telling me stories. I got a few of their numbers but one guy in particular stands out. I still remember his name, but of course I do. He saved my life a few months later. I was found between 48 hours and 72 hours after leaving school. The short 2 nights I had away from home seemed like a week of freedom and a few hours of freedom at the same time. Of course when they found me walking down the side street and brought me back the only logical thing to do was to punish me. The punishment wasn’t too bad and after a day they just sent me to my dad’s for a few days. The place I could breath. No matter how disappointed my father was, he at least could understand the need for escape. Although we talked about a plan for me to be able to bunker down and handle the situation I had to stay in. I lasted maybe a week until I left.

The rule came in handy after I left. Walking down the side of the highway leaving my home city. I tried the whole running away thing here and learnt it had a short countdown until I was found and brought back. On the road I learnt quickly to just not tell your story. Keep it short. Keep it a lie. Age? 18. Why was I on the road? Trying to get back home. Truth was I didn’t feel like I had a home and walking, catching rides and seeing new sights felt the closest I had been to home. Sure I got cold, but staying away from home and sleeping outside already I had learnt how to deal with that. It be- came my second nature. I kept my phone half charged in my backpack and would charge it whenever I found an outlet. Sometimes I would reach out to friends that I thought I missed but I felt my rule falling into place. When being asked how I was doing I would respond with “fine" while I tried to remember what fake name I had given the shelter with that night. I thought I was fine.


When I got to Hamilton, I choked. I thought it was the air but maybe it was foreshadowing. I went to the public library downtown remembering I had talked to someone on Myspace who was from Hamilton. Maybe I could have a couch to sleep on. Admittedly I was afraid of the downtown core of that city. The first night there I had seen people using the bus stops to semi-hotbox with crack, seen 3 fights and didn’t realize I had been planning infront of a porn theater. I should have just kept moving through town. Hit the highway. But when my phone was finished charging and I was about to log off he answered. I was to meet him in the farmers market just outside of the library pretty much. I had enough change and time to grab something to eat and roll a smoke before I had to meet him so I did just that. I slipped my phone into the hidden pocket of my backpack not know- ing that would be what saves me and went to eat.

Two days later I’m sitting in a strangers home, surrounded by adults who know I’m not 18 but don’t have the heart to ask. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m waiting for a guy who just recently broke down a door because I texted the right person and took me out of a nightmare. I’m allowed to shower and as the others all drink I make myself comfortable on the plastic tile floor and cuddle the pit bull. Everyone in this home follows the same rule, don’t talk about yourself. They want to know your hopes and dreams and jokes and play video games. No one cares about who you are, just don’t snitch. Easy rule. The guy I’m waiting for comes back around 1 and it’s time for me to get out of the city. I ignore the screwdriver in the ignition. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Especially when your safety depends on it. I don’t ask if it’s his first time, I just ask where we are going.
Where we were going was 2 cities away, in a apartment building laundry room to sleep until the person woke up and I was given the clear to crash there. She looks at me and coldly shows me a crib mattress on the floor in the corner of a living room. She has her kid split custody with her mother. I don’t ask why, she doesn’t ask why I need a place to stay. The rule is still in place. We warm up and spend a week together before I’m whisked away to the rez.

The rez was safety, freedom, poverty, family. No one spoke out but everyone talked to eachother. I moved from one home to another home openly, greeted by loving parents of the kids I hung out with. I was taught how to cook meals, welcomed in the community activities and I forgot my rule. I spoke about what I’d been through and didn’t expect one mother to overhear. It was the wrong mother. She went onto the computer when I was logged in to find my info and contacted my mother and had her drive down. Coming home We were both crying. Her for finally finding me, me for being forcefully brought back. I felt betrayed. The rule of not talking seemed to slap me in the face and I never broke it again.

Although the rule can create distance in essentially every relationship. Its protected me from so much. It protected me once I turned 16 and left home for good. Its protected me from failed friendships and abusive relationships.

It’s been lonely. But I think I’m getting to a place where I’m able to break that rule again and speak. Everyday I become less afraid to talk about my experiences, and stand up for the human I am now. There is no recreating, there is only me.