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My Little Girl – The Wildflower of Alexandria

Posted by E on January 14, 2016

Cu Mama Iablanita bridge 2

When you’re on the brink of death, common lore says that your life flashes before your eyes. But what they don’t tell you is that the same thing happens when someone you love – or at least someone who was a tremendous influence in your life – dies.  Take for example, my mother – who died only a month ago.

Parinti meiMy mother Lucia and I weren’t close – if anything, I was a parent to her: because both my parents were deaf I was paraded around like a hearing aid dog, interpreting anything they needed to know, translating back to them the often stressful or painful things a child shouldn’t be privy to. And yet this happened – I was there when my mother was arrested by Romania’s Securitate police and escorted off a plane because she’d made the mistake of confiding in a childhood best friend, Dida Tufeanu, the fact that she intended to declare political asylum. I was there when my father beat her brutally, when his fists rained upon her even as I tried to wedge myself between them.

On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

When someone you love dies, your entire life flashes before your eyes – every memory you shared between each other. Every kiss, every blow. The lightest, earliest caress glimmers behind your eyelids – like the time my mother read me fairytales. The time she pretended that Mos Gerila (Father Frost) was at the door and he had brought me two new book volumes of fairytales. The moment she put scars on me for the first time.

Lucia was the mother who kissed my forehead every night. The mother who hit me until she drew blood, whose nails clawed at my skin until new scars were left on my hands and arms. The mother who caressed me as I slept and told me I was the smartest little girl in the whole wide world. The mother who let my father hit me and joined in sometimes.

Sibiu 1My mother Lucia confessed that my father hated children and at the age of 55 he didn’t want a new life in his new, Securitate-given apartment. Over and over again, she told me that my father kicked her in the stomach throughout her pregnancy – determined to abort the fetus who was sure to cause him troubles.

Whenever I didn’t do my homework or play the part of the perfect little daughter, my mother told me that she wished she had indeed aborted me – and shared her regret that my father (who she had married only to obtain a Bucharest city permit) hadn’t managed to kick her stomach hard enough to get rid of me.

Elisa Sibiu deaf school

School for the Deaf, Sibiu spring 2015

But when she loved me, my mother touched my cheek and told me that I was her little girl forever – despite the fact that my brown eyes (my father’s eyes) disappointed her. Despite the fact that she had always dreamed of a Shirley Temple doll – blonde and blue eyes – and her happiest time was right after I was born and when my eyes had (almost) looked bluish. But then my baby blue eyes turned brown and her love for me waned, and then she turned into the same little girl nobody wanted.

Nobody ever wanted my mother – as a small child, she was the wildflower of Alexandria in Teleorman county, Romania – a deaf and dumb little girl who was raped around age 12 by brutal villagers – monsters who in turn transformed her into a monster. She grew to love only animals – kittens, puppies, baby goats – but never trusted people, and it showed.

Lucia was a deaf little girl whose own mother didn’t want her. Who was sent away to her uncle’s estate where she spent years living in the barn next to the outhouse, among the sheep and goats she tended because as “deaf-and-dumb” in the old country she wasn’t deemed human enough to sleep inside the house.

My mother lived in barns, next to sheep and goats, for most of her childhood. She slept in haylofts oblivious of the mice and rats that scurried at her feet. Having fallen off a changing table when she was two, her tympanic membrane had shattered and she was rendered deaf. Once she was deaf, she was useless. In 1940s Romania a deaf child was a curse, a useless mouth to feed. So her mother abandoned her on her uncle’s doorstep, and after that she slept inside a barn for years, unworthy of a bed inside their house – a feral child exposed to all elements except a human’s love.

All my mother ever knew was pain and hardship, and that is all she taught me.

Lucia fetita smallAnd then, the rape by village boys. She was barely twelve. The rape that caught the village priest’s attention and got Lucia sent away to a girls’ Boarding School for the Deaf in Sibiu, the heart of Transylvania. There she would learn to read and write despite having lived as a semi-feral child through critical stages of development.

That school would be the happiest time in her life – she made friends for the first time, learned to sign, lip-read and communicate with others. But the best part was when her and her friends raided the kitchen at night, or when they snuck out the window of their dormitory and went to the movies – when they enjoyed the brief freedom their fleeting youth had to offer.

But those early brutalities never took away the sting of her strap, the sharpness of her nails. My mother clawed and tore at my innocence because she herself never had the chance to be innocent.

She hit me because she was never caressed – she abused me because nobody ever taught her the importance of being loved.

My mother hurt me because everybody in the world had wounded her – because when you live with unkindness, you don’t ever learn how valuable we all are, how each of us without exception deserve love. She was deprived of love and learned that the only way to overcome her worthlessness was to wound others – and wound me, she did.

If I could see you one more time, Mama – I would tell you that you weren’t worthless. You didn’t deserve the pain and horror that others in that brutal world inflicted upon you, making horror be the only thing you knew.

I wish my father hadn’t raped you, Mama. I’m sorry that he impregnated you through rape and made this child that neither of you wanted. I’m sorry that he kicked your belly and convinced you that abortion was the only way – only to give birth to me, an inferior little girl who would never match your desperation for a Shirley Temple doll who might actually bring you happiness.

Iablanita bridgeI brought only pain, because that is the only thing you taught me – I still look at the thin white scars across my hands and arms and cry for you, Mama. A little deaf girl unwanted by the world. A little deaf girl sent out to feed the sheep and goats from daybreak to night, just skin and bones, a feral little thing who slept in the barn next to the animals you tended without anybody ever wandering if you were thirsty or hungry. Without ever wondering how you were in those cold hills when there was nothing except you, a little girl, and the brutal winds of Alexandria county, Romania.

I’m sorry that I told the police what you did, Mama. I was only fourteen years old, and I didn’t understand – but within a week I made sure to recant my testimony because I didn’t want you to get arrested. I didn’t want you to suffer more than you already had, more than a human being could ever suffer. You made countless mistakes that changed both of our lives, but in the end you loved me more than you loved anybody else in the world. You loved me as much as you were capable of loving, despite nobody ever having loved you. You did the best with what you had, and that was so very little.

Elisa Biertan tower2I inherited your pain, Mama. It was seeded inside your DNA, inside the epigenetic code your passed into my blood. Your pain shines in my eyes, Mama. Your wounds are my wounds, just as my father’s ancestral pogroms flow through my bloodstream.

In your later years, you were MY little girl – I tried my best to be there for your needs, despite my failures. I brought you food and paid your bills and tried to understand your needs, although I couldn’t. I’m sorry I put you in the hospital – I thought that after you broke your leg, that was the best thing for you. I wanted you to eat and be cared for, and the waiting list for the Deaf nursing home you wanted to go to was oh so long. But now I think I made a mistake. I should have made sure you stayed in your home, I should have figured out a way for you to trust the help that might have been arranged. Even if you wouldn’t open the door for social workers and Meals on Wheels, even if you didn’t trust anybody but me. Maybe you might have lived longer – although we all die. Although after all, nothing matters.

bob rumballThe month after you died, I tried to kill myself. We all die anyway, right? – so what’s the point? I felt that everything I ever did was wrong, and that you died because I forced Mount Sinai Hospital to keep you and look after you until you’d get a bed inside the nursing home of your choice, Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf. But neither of us knew back then that Bob Rumball nursing home had come to accept hearing people, and in some cases placed deaf people lower on their list in favour of hearing applicants. I didn’t know that in the end you would die in hospital while waiting 13 months for a bed at the Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf – after having waited another year before that also – in total, close to 2 years overall on their waiting list. For whatever reasons which I strongly believe involve either mismanagement, corruption, bribery or God knows what, the Bob Rumball nursing home in Barrie, ON kept taking more and more hearing people in instead of a deaf person like you, who most needed their help.

Elisa Sighisoara yellow street

Walking the same streets my mother had walked

I miss you so much, Mama – the wildflower of Alexandria county. The skinny little girl who herded goats barefoot, thirsty and afraid, and nobody ever loved because they all thought you were worthless. I understand now why you didn’t know how to love – because nobody ever loved you. Because you were born and eventually died alone, like a parched little flower, so tender and beautiful but unwanted by the world, in the foothills and plains of Teleorman county.

You were somebody, Mama. Even in this awful, ugly world where the rich are everything and the poor are considered worthless, you were an innocent little soul who deserved more but was never loved and was abused in every way imaginable. I’m sorry this happened to you, my little girl. I’m so sorry that you didn’t understand the meaning of compassion because you never felt it yourself.

Lucia July31And after all that pain, life cheated you by cutting your life short through early onset dementia (Alzheimer’s). Although your last wish was to return home, there was no money. You worked more than twenty years for Canada’s CIBC bank, never missing a single day of work, and they packaged you out without a pension, leaving you to die in poverty. Leaving me an orphan in a cold, indifferent country I was forced to come to as a child – a country that has brought me only pain.

You were only 71 when you died – an unfair, ugly death you fought with all your might. It wasn’t fair! You didn’t want to die – you struggled so hard against the darkness that seeped into your existence – that made you forget how to eat, how to drink. The darkness that made you become weaker by the second, that fought me so hard whenever I tried to feed you, to keep you alive. But through it all, you didn’t want to die. You raged against the dying of the light – you fought to hang on, no matter what.

In my heart you will be both my mother and my little girl forever. On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

I couldn’t even afford to bury you, and I know how scared you were of being cremated. In your later years you regretted so deeply that you couldn’t return to Romania, and I shared your pain. In the end I was just as worthless, just like those who were supposed to protect you – I’m sorry that I failed your wishes, Mama. I’m sorry that in the end I didn’t have the money to abide by your wishes. In the end, I failed your last wish not to be burned.

I think of those little white hands, their skin so translucent and frail. A little nest of bird bones, a tiny sparrow limp inside my grasp. No semblance of the beautiful lady you once were, or the spiteful young mother who clawed my skin to shreds. No more heavy tears, no more regrets. We had made peace with each other, and I could finally see that beautiful light of your soul, the light that had never had a chance to shine.

My little girl, I told you as I kissed your cheeks, your forehead. Goodbye, my little girl. My little one.

I can’t wait to see you once again. I can’t wait until this pain is over – we live in this horrible world where indifference reigns and nobody gives a shit about the fragility of life, the tenderness of vulnerability, the frailty of hope.

You were innocent. You deserved to be loved. You deserved it, but everybody failed you. And then you failed me – because you didn’t know any better. Because nobody ever taught you how to love.

Goodbye, my little girl. Goodbye.

imagini-cu-ghiocei  Stefan Luchian - Pastorita

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Posted in abuse, ancestry, deaf, death, indifference, mother, personal, romania, sadness, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

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Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rumania, Rumania…lost like the song

Posted by E on May 21, 2015

field haystacks

I’m writing this post while listening to the old Yiddish song, Rumania Rumania. It’s full of nostalgia for a homeland that has been lost and now forgotten, for its sweet wines, hearty cooks and pretty girls – I’m including a YouTube link to the song at the bottom of this post.

My birthplace. My original homeland. The apex of so much pain, grief and longing. A place that has suffered a thousand years of wars, invasions, pogroms, oppression and terror, and is still in transition. Where it will end up in another century, I have no idea. It is a place I love and hate all at the same time, for so many reasons that are all intertwined so tightly in my heart that I could never fully separate the individual strings and emotions which, like arterial veins, crisscross my connection to this place.

Elisa AteneuElisa haystack Romania2015

Romania is a painfully beautiful, lost country. From the moment you set foot within its borders, everybody from taxi drivers to people sitting on a park bench will tell you about the endemic government corruption, how the rich have ransacked the country and left the poor to despair. But what they don’t tell you, as they cling to the Orthodox religion with hateful fervour, is how religion and xenophobia has poisoned their own hearts.

Bucharest’s Gay Pride parade is on Saturday and already the hate and frenzy has begun online – on several blogs I’ve read people suggesting plans to attack the demonstrators in the name of Jesus and morality. Ever since the Revolution of 1989, the Orthodox Church has been growing in influence and, not coincidentally, so has hostility toward any change in humanitarian rights. Homosexuality has been legalized only since 1996 and to this day (despite having been part of the EU since 2007) Romanian courts still have not granted any form of recognition toward same-sex couples. Forget marriage – they don’t even acknowledge the union between a same-sex couple. Gays can’t adopt. Gays can’t donate blood. For all intents and purposes, gays cannot exist as gay without violent opposition.

I found it telling that, in contrast to North American Pride parades that celebrate fun, diversity and having a great time, the local brochure printed by Accept Romania to describe the march is focused on preventing attacks: after the march, make sure to walk away in pairs. Don’t wear things that can identify you for attack. Meet and leave via the metro, rather than on foot. In Romania, taking part in the Pride Parade is an act of defiance, of insurgency, of rebellion. It is the very definition of courage.

LGBT people here are literally prepared to fight for their rights, to risk being filmed on television and fired the next day, to risk being struck with stones and boots – something that we in the West take for granted. The Stonewall riots of 1969 are hardly on our minds as we walk down the street holding hands with our lovers, shoot our water guns and wear rainbow-coloured necklaces during our Gay Pride weekend street parties. It reminds me of the early days of suffragettes – where women who fought for the right to vote were assaulted on the streets and demonized in the press.

Stonewall-Riots-June-28-1969 

anti-gay protesters romania anti-gay-manifestations-romania

The Romanian public’s rampant hostility and religious fervour, along with the idea that “We’re not the sinful West, we don’t have many of THOSE kinds over here” (actual words I’ve read on a blog today) is partially fed by ignorance. They don’t realize that gay people are everywhere, including in their own families, because most gays and lesbians rightfully fear coming out to their families and coworkers. How can they, when they live in a country where gays are often called “sodomites” by people who also refer to Jews as “jidani” and openly express contempt toward those of a different ethnicity (i.e. the Roma people). People here have been beaten, assaulted, sentenced to prison and murdered for their right to love.

On a personal level, it disturbs me how many of my own relatives are so brainwashed by dogma that there is nothing left between us. It’s disturbing how a cousin told me a long time ago that she’d prefer if one of her sons died than become a “poponar” (a derogatory term for gay males). Why should it matter to someone, who I love and choose to live with? Who I sleep with is none of her business – just as I don’t care whether she still has sex with the ugly, irascible, xenophobic husband of whom she often complained. Why is her opinion, anybody’s opinion in fact, more important and valid than mine – who appointed her judge and executioner? How can love for your own child be overwritten by such deep-seated hatred for homosexuality that you’d rather he or she died than be free to love whoever they want?

It’s disturbing how easily the previously oppressed have become oppressors. It’s a process I am still working on capturing in my new book, a process that was recently featured on Romanian news.

So for the record, for the sake of any relatives or former classmates who stumble onto this page: I am and have ALWAYS been gay. I love my partner deeply and I am also proud of my East European background. I am not sick, nor am I confused. The abuse (from both genders) that I experienced as a child has nothing to do with my sexual orientation as an adult. And I promise you that I’m not the only lesbian you’ve ever met. In fact, there are people in your own family, at work, sitting on the bus next to you, people just like you, who are attracted to the same sex.

In the end, I will ALWAYS side with love over hate. I will ALWAYS choose love and human rights over allegiance to blood and nation. And if you’d rather choose Jesus over accepting me, my life, my Jewish religion and my chosen spouse, then I am sorry for you but don’t need your judgement in my life. I don’t want to lose hope, but feel that it will take several generations to wipe out the hate I’ve witnessed over here.

Posted in hate, history, homosexuality, ignorance, love, news, personal, religion, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

An Epitaph for Rodney Bobiwash

Posted by E on April 2, 2015

20th_group11

Last week I had lunch with an old-time activist who had recently read my book, Race Traitor. He said, “I noticed one of the people you dedicated the book to was Rodney Bobiwash. I didn’t even realize he’d passed away so long ago until I tried to look him up on the internet.”

That led to us talking about activists, and activism as a way of life. I told him of my recent encounters with a younger activist group in Toronto whose leaders seemed to have no respect for, or particular interest in learning about, the history of this city, this province and this country. I left the conversation nostalgic about the people I knew back in the 1990s – community role models, people who put their lives and integrity on the line to make a real difference.

Later in the week, as I was digging into my files in preparation for my upcoming journey back to Eastern Europe (where I hope to finish my newest manuscript), I discovered a journal entry I made back in January 2002, on the day of Rodney Bobiwash’s funeral. As I read it, tears started rolling down my face.

I want to share that journal entry now, if only as a way to continue his memory and tell others about him and the profound influence he had on me. Although he doesn’t even have a wiki page and I can’t find a single photograph of him on the internet (the low-resolution group shot above, where he is seated second from the left, is the only I could find), he had more integrity in his little finger than many established community activists earn in a lifetime. He was only 43 when he passed away after a heart attack and I have no doubt that, were he still here today, he would be a powerful force of reckoning against Harper’s draconian new legislation, as well as confronting the ugly reality of Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

At the time I heard of his passing, I had just returned from teaching English in South Korea – so that, even though I didn’t have a chance to speak with Rodney in close to a decade, I had the privilege to visit him as he lay in wait at the Native Canadian Centre on Spadina Road where he had been executive director, and celebrate the life of a brave, unwavering individual who was mourned by indigenous activists all around the world. A First Nations man who had been born with the Anishnabek name Wacoquaakmik – Breath of the Land.

unitybutton idle no more

Thank you Rodney. You helped change my life. I will never forget your kindness.” – this is what I wrote this afternoon in your memorial book while people streamed in to pay their respects. So many people, so many tears.

How frail and unlike yourself you seemed in that blue coffin. I kept wishing you would rise and join the rest of us in celebrating your bravery, the inspirational life of a man whose spirit will always glow in our hearts. On the fourth day of your journey into the Spirit world, I am but one of the many who have become your candles.

I regret that I was so traumatized by what had happened to me in Toronto, by the nightmares and the PTSD that haunted my daily existence, that I sought escape as far away as I could run and hid from everyone – including those who helped to save my life. I regret that I hadn’t spoken with you in the last eight years. I’d like to believe that I would have made you proud – I’ve come so far from the wounded, angry kid you first laid eyes on, to the university graduate, writer and artist I’ve become. Who I am now is a testament to the profound influence of rare, beautiful souls like you who taught me by example about generosity, kindness and humanity.

I will never cease to be in awe of all that you accomplished in your 43 years – from the poverty of your childhood to Oxford University, to becoming a prominent, professor, leader and activist, to joining forces with the Chiapas in Mexico, walking hand in hand with the indigenous in Colombia….the superhuman effort you put into standing up to hatred (even as your life was threatened repeatedly), to all your poignant presentations at human rights conferences around the world, your last one in Brazil only a month ago.

Rodney, what an amazing man you are and you were, and what an exemplary, courageous path you sowed for us to follow! Thank you for having graced this world with your breath, your touch, and your smile. There are no words to express my gratitude for having known you. The way you bowled me over with forgiveness and kindness – how you brought me, an angry kid who had once hated you, into your home and your life.

I will never forget how you fed and sheltered me in your apartment whenever I passed through Ottawa in my year and a half of hiding throughout Canada. How you took cash out of your own pocket and covered part of my costs during that time of hardship. How you arranged for brave Native Canadian warriors to provide me with protection before and during the length of my testimony against the hateful white supremacists whose group put both of us on their hit lists, especially you, creator of Klanbusters.

I will never forget how you helped protect me after I was denied protection by Canada’s government at the instruction of CSIS, whose agents sponsored homegrown terrorism and hate in our country for close to five years.

Until we stopped them.

I hope that your spirit will always walk with me whenever I feel alone, and that your strength and courage will continue to shine inspiration into my life.

Posted in activism, canada, personal, politics, racism, rodney bobiwash, thoughts, toronto | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Parasitic Twin – a Poem about Mermaids

Posted by E on March 3, 2015

 

pearlsisters

Note on this poem: when I was a teenager, I belonged to an extremist group. By age 18 I turned against the group, gathered information on them, testified against its leaders and went underground because of threats to my life. In the meanwhile, another girl from the same white supremacist, neo-Nazi organization (who had done nothing to shut down the group) capitalized on speaking engagements, film and media opportunities. This poem is inspired by that situation.

 

On my knees for a thousand years at the bottom of the ocean,

I have finally began to reclaim myself – one fragment at a time:

innocence, loss, shame, guilt, anger, hate, redemption, LOVE

And now, a face takes shape within the mosaic

of a thousand pieces of shattered glass

 

My knees are bloody, glass is embedded in my barbed-wire hair

– my only gift from my Jewish father, who inherited the wire

and passed its thread of hate within my veins –

and yet (I don’t know how, or when, or even why)

I have begun to unspin the lies, at last;

I’m taking back my identity

Reclaiming what is rightfully mine:

 

The exploited, worthless little girl who was cast aside

In favour of the middle-class Canadian girl with the pretty pink bedspread

whose mother hand-sewn a mermaid costume and paid for university

(my mother left me in the numb hands of an unfeeling monster)

 

The “university student”, the “normal”, Christian girl loved by the media

who did absolutely nothing to stop the terror

– assaults, rapes, fire-bombings, stalking, wounding, destruction and more –

but who looked better on the news, precisely because

she was a “normal” child of the suburbs who had done nothing

except swim and lay with those who helped her get ahead,

 

The “normal”, middle-class girl who volunteered to impersonate

the girl with the scarred soul and the foreigner accent, who had nothing at all

and yet, the one who did everything.

Mermaid sisters

 

The scared, scarred girl who ate from dumpsters, rummaged for scraps in garbage,

looked into the eyes of evil men and put them in prison, and yet

had no profiteers and managers to barter for favours, for media gigs

and so the other, “better”, new-and-improved version

 

– the parasitic twin –

 

Reaped all the benefits with none of the dangers

and the world continued just as before,

ignoring, as usual,

the exploitation of the weak, the unconnected and marginalized

by those who capitalize on the bravery of others,

while the scarred-faced, barefoot girl with no pink bedspreads, no mermaid tails

and no well-connected managers to groom her for the spotlight

who never got something for free

became me.

 

But I am still broken, a mosaic of a thousand fragments of shattered glass

glued flimsily back together, at a crossroads

where nothing matters, except

falling from a great height into the greenery of the ravine – to see

nothing but vastness, the blueness of above and below.

I hate the world I was born in, a world where the unworthy

thread on the broken backs of those considered worthless.

 

The little girl who always stood on the outer side of the window

has run out of matches. The fire has been extinguished.

The breath inside my mouth has turned to ice

And I have nothing to lose but the truth

mermaid

In life, there are battles where you swallow your pride

and then there are those which – if you back down – can swallow your soul;

battles which, if not fought with all your strength and might,

will render you just as complicit as the conspirators of the initial injustice.

 

Years after the wreckage, I struggle to free myself from the boats and rudders

that weighed down my ribs and kept me at the bottom of the ocean.

I disentangle myself from the underwater reeds that had encircled my wrists,

spit out the dirty water that filled my lungs, swim up to the surface

and, peering at my reflection in a pearly cochlear shell, realize with wonder

 

that maybe I was the mermaid all along.

mermaid The_Mermaid

Posted in personal, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

From hermit to social butterfly – is that even possible?

Posted by E on June 16, 2010

Contrary to my social savvy on FB, Twitter and WordPress, I am quite the introvert. Now, don’t laugh, it’s true. Doesn’t everybody know that the more popular you’re on social networks, the more of a friendless geek you are in real life? lol… because, in all earnestness, f you follow the logic that if I was popular, I wouldn’t have all this time on my hands to tweet and FB-post, would I? I’d be hanging out at a cafe somewhere downtown, preferably dressed in black (a scarf tied at the neck being my sole accesory, something mocha-coloured or a brilliant, artistic red), pissed-drunk on cappuccinos and artificial sweeteners. And in a designer tote purse by my side, gnawing on a bone-shaped biscotti, there would be the obligatory chihuahua 😀

But…I’m not that creative. Really, I’m not. Creative enough to pull off the bullshit artiste illusion, that is. Smooth enough to pass as a social butterfly when I’d rather lock myself inside four walls and write, read, or do anything but interact with other human beings. But I will try to do my best this week(end).

So I’m attending the Book Summit at the Harbourfront Conference Centre on Friday. I do hope I’ll see some familiar faces, though with my luck the only people I’m sure to see are my ex-agents – one of whom is part of a panel that is presenting in the afternoon. But maybe some of the other folks I met at the Humber summer workshop couple of years back might attend, so that would be cool. Not that I’m great with faces, but it would be nice to run into somebody I know.

I’m not normally the conference-attending type of writer. Not a junkie for constant agent-pandering and critiques, like some people I know, who make it their business to attend every bloody literary event that spans this city. But this conference actually had an interesting line-up, and it was a really good deal – $120 for early bird registrations, and they’re feeding us breakfast and lunch too. Not bad, i must say. Though I bet if they hosted this thing on a Saturday, they might have attracted more participants.

So I’ll let you know how it goes. Oh, also won a bid on Priceline (first time I’ve ever used them!) to stay at the Hyatt Regency for $85, all incl. Since I’ll be in the theatre district, I hunted around for online coupons and managed to score a code for 25% off Rock of Ages. I know, I know. Big 80s hair and rock&roll. Screeching electric guitars. So totally uncool for someone who’s not part of that teenage generation…but funny enough, I do look forward to it.

Ok, enough rambling for today. Catch y’all later 🙂

Posted in books, personal, Uncategorized, writer, writing | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Renouncing Motherhood

Posted by E on July 2, 2008

I don’t want to worry after a child. I can’t imagine what it would be to experience the uncertainty I have seen in mothers’ eyes when they look out the window and see their baby crossing the street and disappearing into an uncertain future filled with other anonymous people who don’t have the same tenderness, the same cherish, the same endless adoration for the one you love.

I don’t want to feel the trepidation of watching the one you have cradled in your arms and fed at your breast, as he or she stumbles away from you, away, away, falling and crying but always moving further out of range, propelled by an inexplicable forward motion into the distant unknown, propelled by a bottomless ache for exploration that stabs you through the soul.

I don’t want to bear the weight of my grandmother’s fears, as she looked out the same window so many other women before and after her have stood at, arms tucked like prayers in the hollows of elbows, holding themselves tightly, trying to abate the cold that seeps in – the cold of What If? Will he be safe? Will my boy come home tonight?

I don’t want to be my mother standing in that window, on that grey concrete balcony of hers, stubbornly ignoring my furious waving for her to go back inside. I don’t want my eyes to carry like hers do, at the back of my head, so heavy with regrets – regrets of abandonment, of hurting me, regrets of a wretched life that vibrates like a shout in the air between us. But her eyes, nonetheless, full of regrets as they are, plead after me in the road until I am swallowed up by the urban concreteness of the city, and they can no longer follow the shrinking pinprick of my outline.

I don’t want to carry that worry inside me like a shadow infant, a twin of the one who has been born and tears away from you. After a physical birth, a secret pregnancy continues, an afterbirth that you carry in your spirit forever. Even as your baby turns into a toddler, then a youth and finally an adult who goes to school in another city or perhaps gets a job in another country, the twin thrives, sucking from your marrow, clawing through your heart, becoming the pulse in your veins and the throb in your gut.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to bear the pain of creating something as fragile as a human being only to watch him or her slip away from me, while I die a little every day inside. I don’t want to tell her of all my past hurts and all the hurts and demons of her grandmothers and the great-grandmothers before that. I don’t want her to inherit the suffering of her forefathers, the ache of a wounded country, the knowledge of having inherited her flesh from generations of women bloodied by revolutions and wretched men and abandonment and despair.

I think it is more merciful to murder the idea of an infant before it hatches into something more. To hurl that idea as far away as I can, to hurl it like a rock into an abyss of oblivion, to get it far away from me, away, away, away.

(written today, on the occasion of my mother’s birthday)

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Posted in children, family, freedom, mother, personal, pregnancy, thoughts, women | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Temporarily Offline

Posted by E on January 12, 2008

Hey everyone, regular readers and new friends alike,

just letting you know that I’m in the middle of a move, and due to a crappy transition from my regular phone provider to a voip phone that is manned by the most inept company on earth with the crappiest customer service, Primus, I am now without a phone line and left to rely on stealing bandwidth from the neighbours’ infrequent and rather questionable connections.

Yes, I am feeling all shaky and going through cold sweats and being forced to go cold turkey from my internet addiction. But that is an altogether different story.

So, for the next couple of weeks I am entirely offline, and may therefore be unable to approve your witty comments and delightful banter. Please check in with me soon though, since I plan to have another post by end of January. Hopefully I can check in here once in a while, depending on how clear that infrequent and unsecured signal comes in, but can’t make any promises of new posts until end of January.

You can bet on the fact that one of my first posts will be trashing Primus and the entire concept of voip phones, which sounds pretty on paper but is virtually unmanageable in a home office. Just putting the lines together involved so many different coloured wires and instructions over the cell phone that it dawned on me it would be easier to diffuse a bomb Mission-Impossible-style than to make this shitty thing work.

Hope to see all of you soon! Wish me happy bandwidth-stealing!

Posted in personal, rant | 1 Comment »

40K on day 16…catching up on Nanowrimo

Posted by E on November 16, 2007

nanopusher.jpg 

Despite the setback of the first week, where I was down with a miserable, nose-clogging and sputtering cold, I came back through the ranks to close at 40,020 words today.

Of course, I have also lost all sense of reality – I know that I do my best writing between the hours of 6pm-4am, so I’ve just been tripping for the last week or so. As soon as I get up, I roll into the same pile of clothes I left crumpled on the floor before crawling in at 5 am this morning….and back to the keyboard I go.

At first, like everybody else, I thought my novel was utter shit. So high I’ve been on caffeine and sleepless nights, that I saw no reason to think anything otherwise. However, whether it’s due to sleep-deprived hallucinations, or simply my perseverence to work every minute of the day – and edit when I’m not on the computer – I think I may just have a manuscript that, pending intense editing and rewrites, may indeed be of publisheable caliber.

But then I reflected on all those other people who, like me, have found themselves ahead of the pack by mid-November. Apparently there are those who do something called “word sprints”. They sit down in 10 minute segments and bust ass to try and write 500 words. There are some people that have already hit 25,000 words. Which, hey, is great for them.

However…isn’t the whole point of this thing to have a somewhat working novel when November 30th hits? I’m not saying these people don’t. They’re stuff might be amazing, or just as workable as anyone else who writes in four times that amount of time and is barely making it to the finish line.
But If I tried to do that, this is what it would look like: She ran and ate and then went, “wow, I can see through time”. Then the dog barked, making the copy machine eat paste. The duck went, “Quack!”, then drove the car to the mall. Coffee coffee coffee coffee, coffee coffee coffee, donut coffee coffee. Selena, Michelle Rodriguez, Selena, Ikea, Christina Ricci, Starbucks, Selena, Johhny Depp, Johhny Depp.

…And so forth and so on. Would make no sense and I’d be left with two hundred pages of that kind of drivel at the end of all this. So, big ups to those folks who can wind sprint their way through Nanowrimo and still have something to work with at the end.

Posted in nanowrimo, personal, publishing, writer, writing | Leave a Comment »

Boycott “Awesome!” Can’t you think of any other way to express yourself?

Posted by E on October 22, 2007

If I hear the word “Awesome” one more time, I’m seriously going to hurl.

I really hate the word “Awesome”. No, I really, REALLY hate, despise, and go crazy when I hear it. The preponderance of morons who use it as a substitute for a milliard of other expressions is mind-boggling.

For all you “Awesome” lovers out there, there ARE other ways you can express yourself, you know.

If you’re having a good time or have just received a nice gift, you can use adjectives like “great, cool, neat, wonderful, brilliant, excellent.”

If you’re happy and in a good mood, you can say “I’m having a great time,” or “Fantastic!” or “Amazing”, “I’m having a blast”, “Radical” or “Super” or whatever your heart desires! If creativity is scarce, consider consulting a thesaurus – that’s what they’re there for.

Whether you’re a jock athlete after a game, a teen after a party or an office worker describing how your weekend was, can’t you find any other words beyond “Awesome” to describe your experience??

With the arrival of “Awesome!”, the sad, pathetic trend toward singular expressions in the English language has finally hit the titanic of all icebergs: every emotion, every positive experience, each nuance of happiness has come to meet under this overused and cliched umbrella word.

A friend of mine worked at a summer camp for teenagers last year, and at the end of the summer she received a gigantic Thank-You card from everybody, and I kidd you not, every single one of the youth wrote a note which included “Awesome!” i.e. “You’re an Awesome teacher, ____!” “I had an awesome time”, “Awesome camp”, Everything was so awesome”, and so on and so forth. I mean, how pathetic is that?. It’s bad enough kids these days don’t even learn to write in cursive anymore, now they can’t find any other ways or words to express themselves.

I for one have boycotted this word for the last two years. I have never used it, not once. And I have a hard time keeping myself from cringing when I hear it spewing ad nauseam from the mouths of adults who try to act hip by adopting the latest jargon.

So here’s a message to all Awesome -addicts: PLEASE, just try it for one day. ONE single day. Boycott this freaking word and see if your atrophied brain can muster up any other adjectives.
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Posted in commentary, culture, humor, humour, life, media, personal, rant, stupidity, thoughts, weird, wtf | 6 Comments »