Know Thyself

Every so often, I dream of a plane crashing.  Not one I am on, but one I witness dropping from the sky.

Last night, it was three.  Two smaller air show-like stunt planes, followed by a commercial airliner.  They all landed in water and disappeared beneath the surface almost immediately.

I called 911 and let them know, but as I was talking, I had trouble remembering details, and then began to doubt whether I’d seen it, or not.

I started to wonder if I’d just been dreaming, and rather than waste more of their time, I hung up on 911. And then I woke up.

Sometimes I dream while I am in the midst of waking, and imagine things are happening.  Usually I have to turn on a light and think about what’s real before I can piece things together again.  Once I was convinced I saw smoke and was already planning how to best evacuate the house when I realized I couldn’t see it anymore.  It’s confusing, and the feeling never really leaves once I am fully awake.

In other news, it occurred to me earlier that I’m back to my late 20’s weight, but with my early 40’s body, which means more appropriate curves and a smidgen of maturity. I mean, it’s also an early 40’s body with MS, so it is tired all of the time, and in pain much of the time.  Today has been particularly brutal, because I over-exerted myself the past two days.  So it’s not perfect, but I am content with it, regardless.

For the first time in over a decade, whenever I look at a photograph or catch my reflection in a mirror, I can see myself in it again.  There’s so much more to it than mere appearance, and even more to go as I grow, but it’s a pretty amazing place to be, I’ve gotta say.

It’s a sensation I didn’t know I’d lost until it came back again.  In a body I no longer know, due to a disease that takes away control, I can still see myself; see me again, and know me anew.

I feel a vague sense of power in that.

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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Last night, I finally finished reading my friend’s book, The Summer Of Letting Go. Okay, so maybe Gae Polisner aren’t friends in the traditional sense. I mean, we’ve never met in person. But we met as writers, which is almost as good. And I actually would like to meet her in person someday, especially if such a meeting included her little doggie. Charlie pics and videos have gotten me through many a bad day, after all!

But I digress. I’d already been ugly crying over a particularly powerful episode of Chicago Fire, and then decided to read a bit before trying to sleep. I was closer to the end of the book than I’d thought, though, so I ended up staying up a bit late to finish it. And ugly cry some more.

Dammit Gae!

So, first off, it’s a really good book. I’m not about to write a review of it here, or anything, though (I will, however, try to remember to do it on Amazon and the like), because that’s not quite what this post is about. It’s more about the emotions it brought up in me.

I can’t claim any kinship with the protagonist – my little brother is alive, I don’t feel like my parents hate me, and I’m not a teenager. I don’t have a Lisette, nor a Bradley. Nor a Frankie Sky (though…maybe Brody would fit that bill, a bit). But there is definitely something in the way she blames herself for her brother’s death, and understands and accepts that everyone else must, as well. It’s not even something that needs to be discussed. It just is. She understands it as simply her reality, and the way she interacts with everyone else in her world is a result of believing that they understand reality the same way she does.

There is something innately relateable in that to me. Something powerful that goes deeper than circumstance, and brings up some pretty powerful emotions. That everything comes to a head at the end of the book, and that I chose to read it last night when similar emotions have already been building up inside of me, as well, made it a kind of perfect storm for ugly crying.

It actually still affected me this morning, too.

This sense that someone I love beyond reason, of whom I think very highly, could think far less of me, and in some cases actually hate me, is a feeling I fully understand. I don’t even have to know specifically why. Just that I am inherently detestable to those whose opinions matter most to me. That even if they love me back, at first, that will change soon enough. I don’t even try to fight it anymore. I just expect it, and accept it when it happens.

Even as I type this, I know how it sounds, and I’m sure there are people who think that telling me that’s not the case will impact my understanding of my own inner world in some positive way. It won’t. I know it’s rubbish, on a logic level. But further inside on a level even I can’t see, lurks something else. And writing any of it down isn’t a request for someone to try and argue it. It’s more an exercise in locating words to adequately describe a particular sensation; something which has always been there, and just never spoken about. Until now. See, that’s the thing with writing stuff down sometimes. Having someone else tell me something that lies inside of me isn’t true, or isn’t real, doesn’t actually change anything. Be me giving voice to it takes away its power; like shining a light into a dark corner and seeing for myself that there’s actually nothing there to worry about. Someone else telling me they turned on a light and didn’t see anything means nothing to me. I have to see for myself. That’s how one grows, really. Do the work yourself; don’t expect anyone else to do it for you. And trying to do it for someone else takes away their own voice; their own power.

This isn’t intended to be me saying, “I am unloveable and will never know happiness” or whatever it sounds/reads like. It’s about me admitting to myself that I sometimes feel that way, that it affects how I relate to other people – particularly the ones I want to feel closest to – and that if I can recognize it, put words to it, maybe I can diffuse it.

There is an enormous difference between thinking things in your head when you are alone, and actually trying to say them out loud, or write them down, or what have you. The transfer from vague thought and emotion into something more concrete…it loses something; some of its power. That holds true to really great thoughts and emotions, too, of course. There’s just no perfect way to convey our most powerful inner realities to anyone else, even though we all feel a lot of the same things.

We just don’t all feel them quite the same way.

Which can be frustrating. But when you do get something out; when you see the lightbulb come on in someone else’s eyes and know without a doubt that they get it; that they understand. A crazy kind of connection gets established in that moment, and even if the shared understanding is of something horrible, you know at least that you are no longer alone in it. And that’s worth all the frustration and effort, I think.

As for me…I’m not great at liking myself, usually, so it’s easy for me to believe that those I hold in highest regard wouldn’t, either. Part of me is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it does, I claim that I knew it would happen, because that’s how things go for me. FML and all that.

It was pointed out to me long ago that it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy to hold back for fear of being hurt if and when the other person stops being such a large part of your life. And I get that, so I try (sometimes) to curb the machinations of the dark beast within and force myself to aim for the lightbulb moments as much as I can. It’s not easy, and I fail more often than I’d like to admit, even to myself. I do get confused about what actually is true sometimes, though, and that’s where I fall into my own trap.

I guess, at least for now, I need to try harder to enjoy the time I do have, and spend less time trying to predict when it will end.

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Writing Choices

I realized something this morning, or at least noticed it happening again.

I was going over in my head some of the things I’m planning to do with the story contained in my first novel, and what I’m toying with having some of the characters do. One in particular is bothering me more than I’d realized at first, because it’s the one loosely based on moi.

Now, don’t get me wrong – our lives are not at all the same. I have a brother not sisters, I am the oldest not the youngest, and I am nearly a decade older than the character is in the book. I’m not with a Sarah, both my parents are still alive, I didn’t grow up in that house, or have Trick for a dog. I don’t think I’ve ever even carved a pumpkin for Halloween. Not on my own, at least.

So really, I guess that character is just more like how I think I’d react in the situation I wrote her into. Though I guess that could be said for everyone I write, in a way, because there’s part of me in all of my creations, to a certain extent. But that one in particular was written to give myself an alternate story to exist in, just as Sarah was written to give the person she was inspired by a different imaginary path to tread upon. Neither of them are more or less real to me than the others in their story, though. I just have I guess more of an emotional attachment to one in particular. I don’t want her to do anything I don’t think I would do.

But since the screenwriting conference, I’ve been considering doing just that. I’ve been struggling with a reason for it – a believeable reason, something that felt true – and haven’t come up with one as of yet. I did come up with a plausible yet similar act for which there would be justification (at least in her mind and kind of mine), so I might very well go with that. I’m not certain it’ll make the story stronger, but I’m not sure that it won’t, either, so I am betting on at least keeping the sense of truth to it all, instead. Because truth can do wonders for the power in a story, and for real life.

The crazy thing I realized or noticed again this morning was how much it was actually bothering me to try and come up for a reason for my character to do something against my own inner traits. I felt a little nauseous, and distracted, headachey and sadder than usual. When I say it was depressing to think about – to imagine possible scenes that would lead the character down the path to making that choice – I don’t mean it in a flippant or surface way. I mean that it affected me on every level – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I felt horrible just thinking about it in detail and trying to make it work.

My imagination can be pretty strong sometimes.

I felt worse about that than I have about many actual things that have happened.

So I’ve decided that – whether it works in theory or not – it won’t work for me. As in, I won’t be able to make it work, not for that character. I could easily have a different character in the story perform the act as it started out in my head, but that would have been more believable and far less powerful than having this particular character do this particular thing, but have the scenario leading up to it be a little different from what I had originally considered. Which means I get to add power to my story, while not making myself sick, or at least not in that way.

It’s amazing how much better I felt as soon as I realized the effect even thinking about it was having on me and made the decision to literally change my story. Even just a tiny alteration made all the difference.

Ghomeshi Verdict

Well, turns out that, no matter what else I was thinking of talking about today, there is now only one subject that’s worth my voice. Yet I am so angered and ashamed and sitting here in frustrated, impotent disbelief that I can’t even think of words. So bear with me.

Back in 1988 (nearly 30 years ago now) powerful film called The Accused was released. Starring my love, Jodie Foster, it told the tale of a woman who had been publicly gang raped, and the struggle she went through in both the court of law, and the court of public opinion, to bring her attackers to justice. It was a very tough but very necessary watch.

Today, we’ve been shown that our justice system – and indeed much of our society as a whole – have not come nearly as far as we pretend we have in those 30 years. I want to say today’s verdict hurts my heart (which it does), and that I’d hoped for a different outcome but am not surprised by the actual one (because that’s also true). I also want to say again how angry and disheartened and frustrated I am by the result – because I do feel all of those things.

But mostly what I want to try and express is the very physical effect it’s having on my body now. I feel sick. I can’t focus on my work. I am shaking and every muscle in my body is tense like a wire pulled too tight. I am damn near crippled by it, and I don’t even know any of the people involved personally. Yet there are no words for the effect this verdict has had on me, and from what I can tell, that’s a large part of the problem in situations like this as a whole. There aren’t words to express it. There are just emotional, mental and physical reactions, all happening on the inside, out of sight (except for all the trouble I am having typing this…the amount of backspacing and correcting I have to do is obscene). In cases where there is physical evidence, it’s much easier to prove a point to an outsider. In cases where the loss of a loved one is involved, it’s easier for someone else to have some sort of sense of what that means, having also lost loved ones themselves, but to varying degrees.

But in cases of rape and sexual assault – you just can’t. If you’ve had no personal experience with it at all, you just can’t imagine. And to those who can imagine, there are no fucking words. None that come close to expressing their experience, nor the effect it has had on them forever. Forever, guys. It’s not something you get over, or forget, or have any control over. You can go years without thinking about it, and then something random happens and you’re right back there in it again, experiencing it all again, on the inside, just like you did the first time. It’s a wound that never truly heals. It’s cut that does not scar. It just breaks open again from time to time. For the rest of your life.

And whether it happened yesterday, or 30 years ago, some details you never forget. Everything that happened during the assault remains fresh as a daisy (whatever that means – never mind – it stays crystal fucking clear). Yet everything before and after is gone. A blur at best. Your body and mind don’t consider those details to be important, so they are let go, and 100% of your focus is on what happened to you. Maybe you have even thought before about what you would do should you ever find yourself in such a situation, but guess what? You almost never do what you think you’d do. You can’t plan a reaction to something like that. When it happens, some other subconscious part of you takes over. Self preservation – of your whole self, not just your body – takes over, and when all is said and done, the very first person to judge you is you. You go over it and over it in your head, and imagine other outcomes, and things you could have done or should have done – you envision every possible scenario, including whether or not someone else could have helped, or something you might have said instead that would give your attacker pause.

Because most of the time, it’s someone you know. Maybe even someone you love. Someone you trust. Someone you wojuldn’t have suspected was even capable of such a thing. Someone in a position of power or authority. An employer. A healer. Every single time, it’s someone who should have known better. And then when they treat you like nothing happened, like they did nothing wrong, and that you should know better than to think them capable of such a thing, that’s when the fun self-doubt game sets in! You can’t remember what led up to the assault, so maybe you did do something to encourage it. Maybe it was a huge misunderstanding. He did say he likes it rough (though to my mind, that means he likes rough stuff done to him, not the other way around), and you consented, so maybe you just were too embarrassingly naïve to understand what he meant. He’s just so logical and likeable and no one will believe you when you’re not even sure you believe yourself. So yeah, forget it…you misunderstood and blew everything way out of proportion. Give him another chance, and you’ll see how wrong you were about him. Or he’s your husband…for better or for worse, right? You promised him that. Or you’ve slept together before and this was maybe just a one time thing…just a mood, or whatever (though even a one time thing is one time too many…I tell myself and then don’t listen when it pertains to me). Or you work together and still have to see each other at a time. No sense in rocking the boat over a simple misunderstanding. Be nice. You weren’t raised to be rude, and you’d like to keep your job, so just forget it and move on already.

These women – “the complaintants” (dumbest name ever for what they actually are – heroes, champions, survivors, not-taking-any-bullshit-igans) – they stood up. They gave a voice to the only words they were able to find along the way. They spoke out, for themselves, and for everyone else who has suffered through a similar life-altering event. They said no, I will not let you do this to anyone else. Not one more.

Because one was one too many.

And their reward for taking that impossibly difficult step? To be put on trial themselves, instead. To be the most recent victims of an ancient system of “justice” that still favours the perpetrator. The accused didn’t even have to take the stand in his own defence. He didn’t even really say he didn’t do what he was accused of – he simply said it was consensual. Which…isn’t that speaking FOR the women? However. His actions were never really put on trial. The actions of the women were, instead. Oh, they didn’t tell the whole truth in their original statements? Maybe because they weren’t the ones on trial. Maybe because their actions before and after the assaults had zero to do with his actions during the assault.

Then, to add insult to injury (and more insult), the judge basically accuses the women of lying under oath, says we have to put a stop to women submitting false claims of assault (because apparently that happens all the time, even though the vast majority of such crimes go un-fucking-reported), and then throws out some statement about how his verdict isn’t the same as saying that the events didn’t happen, just that there’s reasonable doubt that they didn’t happen.

Um, Judge Super-Genius, sir? That’s actually exactly what you’re saying.

He’s not only dismissed the women’s claims as invalid, but he’s also sent a very clear message out to anyone else who suffers a similar fate and has dillusions about stepping forward to accuse their attacker. This verdict has basically silenced every other survivor – not just in this city, but everywhere. Canada’s women lie about being raped. And if the oh-so-polite Canadians can do it, then surely every other country’s women are liars, too.

Does anyone even know what a struggle it is to come to terms with the notion that what happened to you is assault? That it’s a crime? Just to get your own self to understand it is a huge inner battle, and you are your own worst critic. Guaranteed, every single thing said to those women during the trial has already been gone over by them themselves. They have already torn themselves apart and then pulled themselves back together enough to take the enormous step of speaking up. At the risk of not being believed, of not getting justice, of not getting some sort of closure.

And thanks Canadian Justice System! That’s exactly what’s happened today.

You know Ghomeshi is going to get laid again. And you know it’s only a matter of time before some woman gives him the benefit of the doubt and it happens again to someone else. Will that woman step forward? Or will she think about herself what so many others will think – that she was warned, and that she should have known better. That it would in fact be her own stupid fault.

To that woman – or women – whoever you are, and to the women who left the courthouse after the battle of their lives today, I will say right now that I believe you. I stand by you. And I will vent my impotent yet righteous rage online for all the world to see or not see because I believe you. I believe in you.

And it’s not your fault.

Watch Your Eyes

To say I am exhausted today would be an understatement. Still worth it (my part in it, at least), but yeah…definitely struggling today. It’s rainy, it’s the Monday after the time change (which is worse than the first day after, I find), I’ve had very little sleep over the past few weeks, I’m sick, and there’s always the same old MS fatigue that I get to walk around with every day.

However, the factor that tipped the scale today would have to be the biog broadcast gala of the Canadian Screen Awards that Tim and I covered from start to finish last night! For the first time ever, we checked in as media in the middle of the afternoon, found out spot on the red carpet, greeted people as they arrived, then headed to the press room to cover the awards – the non-broadcast ones and the broadcast ones, as well. It was insane in the best way!

Touchwood always takes amazing care of us, but I feel like they keep outdoing themselves from year to year. This event was bigger for us than it has been in previous years, and thanks to our employer we were able to get more quality phootos and videos than we usually do, as well! We got to talk to a crazy number of people on the carpet, some of whom we already knew, and many we were meeting for the first time. Some virtual legends like Helen Shaver, Martin Short, and the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes! Not to mention a couple of our longtime favourites, Yannick Bisson (and his wonderful wife Shantelle) and legend in her own right Megan Follows!

Whaaat?! How is this happening?! We ask ourselves that a lot. A LOT.

Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, but also makes us giddy as hell.

To boot, we were in the coolest corner of the carpet, right at the very end. It was literally cooler, as a door to the outside had been open up until things got going, and every single person we talked to mentioned that it was far more comfortable than the arrival area around the corner. I suspect we were also in the figuratively cooler corner of the carpet, as the media outlets to both sides of us also knew how to have a good time, and we all made our own fun together while we waited. They were also all a lot of fun to watch work, and we all commented on that with one another once the carpet wrapped.

There was a thing, a tiny moment with Helen Shaver, that reminded me of a similar thing that happened in my theatre class in University. I was in my final year, and even though I’d wanted to take theatre classes the whole time, it took me until my last year to finally work up the courage to give it a go. Got one of my best friends out of it, too, actually!

Anyway, Helen Shaver was talking about how she tries to get real and honest performances out of her actors to tell the story she wants to tell when she’s directing. She spoke, and then leaned closer to me, holding eye contact the whole time. I don’t even quite remember what she said because I think I stopped breathing, but there was a second or two that felt really intense before I eventually looked away. That moment or two reminded me of an exercise we’d done in class involving eye contact and the holding of power in a scene.

Our prof had us perform a scene over and over, but with a different character or characters holding power each time we ran through it. If someone had power, they could look at the person they were talking to. Anyone who did not have power could not meet the gaze of the power-holder(s). If they weren’t being looked at, they could look at whoever had power, but as soon as that person/people looked at them, they had to look away.

It was really interesting to see how differently a scene could play out by just using eye contact alone. None of us moved from our spots, we said the same lines over and over again, but the tone would change vastly from performance to performance, depending on who had power. Sometimes one person would have it all, sometimes more than one (so they could make eye contact and lend a sort of balance to the conversation), sometimes all but one would have power.

The one time I was the person who held all the power was…amazing. I mean, it was two minutes, but no one could look at me. Well, no one in my scene. I guess the audience could, but I don’t remember noticing them at all. I was busy “acting”. I had fun trying to psyche them out. I’d look around and then flick my gaze to one of them and watch themquickly shift their eyes to the floor or wherever suited them. Usually I am super shy, so this felt great. Even now, I have to consciously remind myself to look people in the eye when we speak to one another, and as a child I remember meeting people and only knowing what they looked like in profile or from the neck down, because I couldn’t bring myself to look at their eyes if they were looking at me.

But then came the round wherein I was stripped of all power. Like, all of it. I couldn’t look at the prof, I couldn’t look at the other members of my class, and I certainly couldn’t look at the other performers sharing the scene with me. Basically floor and ceiling. I could look down and look up, but looking “out” was not allowed. I had no power, Captain!

And it sucked, guys.

I kept trying to push through the scene, but I found myself panicking a little bit. There was nowhere I could look because it seemed everyone was staring at me and not looking away at all, so I started backing up from where I’d been standing the whole time, and felt my back bump up against the chalkboard behind me. With nowhere else to go, I slowly sank to a crouch and stared at the floor in front of me. I felt like I was about to ask if we could stop now, when our prof called a halt to it on her own. I actually felt a little shakey and off after, but at least I could breathe again.

It was such a powerful learning experience – and somewhat emotional one – that I found myself writing about it in that actor journal thingy they make you keep as part of your final grade. There are, of course, no rules within the general public that says you can’t make eye contact with certain people around you. In fact, eye contact is usually a good sign, showing that you are present in the encounter; that you are listening and/or engaged. It shows you are paying attention.

I mean, unless you’re me with, say, Helen Shaver, and just concentrating so much on making and holding eye contact that you forget to listen. For example.

But I think one of the things I learned is that, unwritten rule or not, eye contact as a tool of power actually works. If you’re listening, too, then all the better, because you can get a much better read on a person if you include their expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc. And no matter what, stronger and more real connections are made through eye contact than anything else. More than spoken words, or words on a page, more than a voice on the other end of the phone; across species and around the world.

The eyes have it.

For Michelle Nolden

Michelle Nolden is one of those actresses who turns up in things all the time (because she’s so talented), but that you keep thinking of her as “that girl” until a role comes along wherein her performance is so strong that her name is finally retained in your brain, and she ceases to be “that girl”.

For me, with her, that role is of Dr. Dawn Bell on CTV’s Saving Hope.

It’s funny, too, because in the beginning, I hated Dawn. She was Charlie’s (Michael Shanks) ex-wife, she pulled the plug on him when he was in a coma (but he lived, luckily for all), and she was a thorn in the show’s main love story’s side for quite awhile. Always cropping up to cause trouble for Charlie and Alex (the impossibly gorgeous Erica Durance). To boot, she became everyone’s boss as Chief of Surgery, and she ran a tight ship. It was annoying.

Over time, however, something changed, and Dawn slowly became one of my favourite recurring characters on the show. When I saw Michelle Nolden’s name in the opening credits (because by then I totally knew her name), I was certain viewers were in for a treat.

Like, more than usual, because I freaking love this show.

Anyway, once I got to that point, I reached out to her agent to see if it would be possible for her to join The Mind Reels at any point over our Guinness World Record-breaking weekend. It turned out that she had to work a long, emotional day on set, but that she would try to stop by if she could. I was ecstatic, and said we’d definitely make time for her if she was able to be there at all.

Much to my joy – and, if I’m being honest, surprise – she DID make it, after all! I saw her come into the hotel lobby that first night and completely forgot I was interviewing someone. I said, “Michelle is here! Yay!” and flagged my team down to make sure they knew to sneak her in between guests. I wasn’t feeling well already that night, so I barely remember what we talked about, but I know there was some discussion of the evolution and growth of Dawn’s character arc, and I gave her condolences for what happened to Dawn’s little sweater-wearing guinea pig that she didn’t even want but then fell in love with.

Since then, we’ve been wanting to bring Michelle into the studio for a better/longer chat, but there hasn’t been time or opportunity – yet. I’ll keep checking in with her agent until we make it happen, though!

However, turns out Ms Michelle Nolden won a Canadian Screen Award last night, and Tim and I made sure we were there to congratulate her on the red carpet in the press area after she left the stage!

You see, this season in particular has been insane for Dawn, and while there wasn’t time for chit chat, I do have a few things I wanted to tell Michelle about how her performance has affected me, and how much I feel it comes from a place of truth.

So I’ll do that here, instead.

There’s an episode – and anyone who’s seen it will know exactly what I’m talking about – wherein Dawn is raped – violently – by her colleague/boyfriend (Shaun Benson)…in her office. It was so powerfully filmed and performed by both actors that I can’t even remember anything else that happened in the episode. Just that, and the immediate aftermath. The rape scene was violent and disturbing without being graphic – a tight shot on Michelle’s horrified eyes with Shaun’s voice whispering in her ear. Gah!

To be clear, I know and adore Shaun Benson. I think he’s a fantastic talent. But part of me wished he wasn’t THAT fantastic as I watched that scene, because it was like watching a nightmare, and it’s stayed with me ever since. Damn you, Shaun!

There were red flags, of course; little warning signs that viewers and Dawn could pick up on, and then promptly ignore because he’s just so damn charming, and in a position of power, to boot. I still don’t think I expected what eventually happened to be as powerful and real as it was, though. In her office?! With windows everywhere, the space that she’s made her own. Her refuge from the trials and stress from running a hospital. And all the power she had job-wise didn’t make a lick of difference in the face of her attacker. Not only was it someone she trusted, but it was also done in such a way that everything Dawn had believed about her world was torn apart and demolished. Everything. She had nothing left to hold on to.

Well, almost nothing.

The next time we see Dawn it’s at the end of the episode, and she is alone again in her office. She is bruised, and in tears, her sensible work skirt ripped almost completely off. Her sanctuary looks much the same as always, but it no longer feels safe. Not to Dawn, and not to any viewer who’d just witnessed what transpired there.

In my mind, I wanted to hug her and get the police and all the big guys she works with and go beat the shit out of Shaun…’s character (haha He really is that good). I wanted to scream from the rooftops about the crime that had been committed, and go get the bad guy once and for all. I wanted him to lose everything, just as he’d taken everything from her.

Instead, I watched the scene play out as it was written, and was thunderstruck by how absolutely right it was. Dawn frantically searched in her desk drawers for something, and when she finally located it, she sat on the top of her desk, composed her features, and began to sew her skirt back together.

I lost it.

It hit me like a truck…how appearances inform our interiors sometimes…the attempt at retrieving a semblance of normalcy and some sense of control over something. Over anything, even if it’s something as simple as mending a ripped skirt. It wasn’t about pride nor humiliation. Not even fear, or anger at what had just happened to her. Dawn’s facial expression changed and her concentration was total. In that moment, that skirt was all she had.

When I was in University…I want to say third year? I decided to walk the few short blocks to McDonald’s (as you do) and grab myself some dinner. It was around this time of year, so even though it was only 7pm-ish, it was already dark. It was also unseasonably warm, though, so I was feeling pretty giddy with the touch of spring in the evening air.

I passed a young guy about my age, standing under a streetlight by one of the houses lining that portion of the street. Once I got by him, however, I could hear his footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. Warning bells went off in my mind, but I shoved them aside, because paranoia can be a dangerous thing, and usually when we think something is cause for concern, it ends up being nothing, and then we feel dumb.

Like, can’t a guy walk down the same street as me? Who the heck do I think I am?

I got near McDonald’s, and turned to go up a little grassy hill that led to the drive-thru and parking lot. As soon as I’d stepped off the sidewalk, though, I was banged into from behind, and felt two powerful-ish arms pin my arms to my sides. Well, my hands were in my pockets, so they got pinned there.

It all happened so fast, I was still thinking that it was someone I knew, just being a jerk. The force of him slamming into me actually pushed me further up the little hill, and he didn’t have his balance enough to lock his hands, so I ended up a step or two in front of him for a second. I turned to look at him, expecting a friend, and saw a stranger instead. He wasn’t looking at me, but rather past me, to where the cars were lined up in the drive-thru. I think at that point he realized we could both be seen, so he turned and jogged away. Or walked away. I don’t really remember. Just that it all seemed so normal, and wouldn’t draw attention to him either way.

And what did I do, you ask? Now that I was momentarily safe and had just basically been assaulted (see I can’t even call it anything specific because it still sits as a possibly jerky but innocent boys will be boys act), but it could have been way worse but now I was in full view of lots of people in a public place?

I went inside and ordered a Big Mac combo.

Yep. I didn’t make a sound. I didn’t try to confront him, or call for help. I simply composed myself enough to order the dinner I’d been looking forward to, and then sat down at a table by myself.

I tried to eat, but got nauseous, so I threw most of it away. Kept the fountain Coke, though.

I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. Had I been targeted? Or was being a female alone on a busy street enough to warrant what he’d tried to do. What had he tried to do? Rob me? Beat me up? Kill me? Rape me? Where had he gone? Was he still out there, watching me through the windows of the restaurant and waiting for me to come out? How would I get home? Could I stay in McDonald’s until morning?

So many questions.

I couldn’t figure out how I felt, nor how I should feel. I wasn’t sure of his intentions, and wasn’t sure I had a right to be angry or afraid or upset. I had no idea what to do.

I sat and thought and waited and finally decided to take a chance on crossing the parking lot to the phone booth on the corner. It still didn’t occur to me to ask for help, because I felt like…not that I’d deserved what happened, but more that nothing much had happened. I didn’t feel I had a right to expect anyone to come to my aid. My brain kept coming up with excuses for the guy, even. Maybe he’d just stumbled and lost his balance. Maybe he’d thought I was someone else and left when he realized his mistake. All kinds of crap went through my mind.

And because I’m old now, there were no cell phones. I had to get to the phone booth on the corner. At least it was lit up, and there were lots of cars nearby. Cars he could also be hiding behind, but maybe he wouldn’t know I would try for the phone. I didn’t know.

So I finally got my courage up (or stupidity…tough to tell sometimes) and speed-walked to the phone booth. I’d gotten a quarter out and had it in my hand to save time. I called the home of friends who lived down the street. I’d actually passed their place on the way.

Thankfully, they rocked.

They came to get me, en masse, and while I’m pretty sure Izzy in particular would have rather tracked the guy down and beat the tar out of him with her bare hands, they all convinced me to call the police. That the guy had done wrong, and that a crime had been committed, and that it was worth reporting.

They walked me back home, and stayed with me while I made the call, and together we waited for a police officer to arrive. Even though I was going through a myriad of emotions by then (including wishing I’d beat the tar out of him myself and humiliated him and perhaps ruined any chance he’d had of procreating), one thing that kept nagging at me was that maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d misread what had happened and misunderstood the whole thing.

Maybe I was wrong.

I worried that the cop wouldn’t believe me, or brush it off as the non-incident I feared it was, or that he would believe me but the guy would never be found and how would any of it ever be proven, anyway? I thought at most it would end up on the back-burner and eventually forgotten.

The policeman arrived, and even though he was kind of cute and had a kind face, I wondered briefly about the decision to send a male officer over to talk to a female who’d just encountered a less-kind male. He was, however, pretty great. Took us all for a ride in his police car (I got to ride in the front, though), so I could show him where everything happened.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of it was murky in my mind. I could not remember exactly which house he’d been standing by. I couldn’t remember the colour of his clothes, or his hair, or even if he’d been wearing a hat. I could see him in my mind, but I couldn’t see him at the same time. There were no details. Unfortunately, even when there are warning bells and red flags, I don’t go into super spy mode and memorize every detail possible. Stuff happens, and I apparently can’t quite recall the main points to any helpful degree. The chance of catching him was getting slimmer. It was a University town, after all. Maybe he was just visiting, and didn’t go to school there at all. Who knew?

Definitely not me.

My lack of recall, coupled with my inability to completely agree that the guy had done anything really all that wrong was crippling, and as a result, my case got more flimsy by the moment.

The police officer, however, was on top of it. Less than two weeks later, he called me and wanted to come over with a photo line-up for me to look at. Apparently some other poor girl had been sexually assaulted in the same area, with the same basic desciption of her attacker.

(Insert guilt forever that I wasn’t able to stop him from going after other girls)

I looked through a book of mug shots and more candid photos, all of guys who were roughly the same age and description as my guy. The officer told me to take my time, and even pick out a few photos, if any of them had certain qualities that reminded me of the guy. He said I didn’t have to be certain; that I could kind of pick parts of some of them to give a better idea of what little I recalled about the dude. He said the guy may or may not even be in the line-up. It was just to get a better idea.

I chose 3 different photos, two of them were on the same page. One was mostly based on angle, because when I’d turned to look at him, he was no longer facing me directly. It was more of a profile view. I can’t really remember what drew me to the second photo. But the third, there was just something about the third. I couldn’t shake it. I kept going through more photos and always came back to that one. Finally I just pointed it out and said that it maybe wasn’t exactly as I remembered (vaguely remembered), but that it was the closest one. I wasn’t confident enough to proclaim, “THAT’S THE GUY!”, but it was the only one which felt close enough to be accurate in the light of day.

The officer wrote everything down, and then collected his things. He told me he wasn’t allowed to confirm or deny if the one I’d pointed out was the same guy they’d arrested in the other attack. I said I understood.

And then he winked at me.

We had our “man”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone over that night – and a few other incidents which have occurred over the years – and re-written it all in my mind. I change how I reacted, I…sometimes become kind of violent, and I always, always stand up for me and mine.

My reality, for whatever reason, has always been very different. I freeze, I shrink, I keep walking, I put my head down, I stay quiet and still, I ignore the signs, I make excuses for the perpetrator, I wonder if there was something I’d done to cause it in the first place. After the fact, I am all indignant righteous rage. But during? I just have never figured out how to go against my very instincts and react differently.

The following year I was walking home from an evening class, and heard footsteps behind me, running up the sidewalk. I flashed back to that other time I’d felt the warning bells, and in a moment of pure terror, I spun around at the last second to at least greet my inevitable end head on.

But the jogger went right on by.

I see something like this portrayed so realistically – and intimately – on screen, and I’m all, “I would have done THIS!” But at the same time, I know from repeated experience that I would not. I only wish I would have.

That is what struck me the most about that episode of Saving Hope. Sometimes there are no heroes rushing in to save you. Sometimes you don’t suddenly know street fighting. Sometimes you don’t keep weapons on hand and aren’t afraid to use them.

Sometimes you don’t do what you “should” do, or even what you think you’d do.

Sometimes, all you can do in the moment is order a Big Mac, or mend your torn skirt.