Gender + Sexuality

December 6, 2011

Je Me Souviens: 22 Years Ago I Walked To School And Was Afraid

More articles by »
Written by: Ashleigh
Tags: , , ,

My mom was crying in the living room with the TV on. I asked why she was crying. She told me, very honestly, that a man had gone into a school in Montreal (the city from which I write now) and hurt the women who went there. That he lined them up and shot them. I wonder now about her choice to tell me this so brutally. Was it best I learned this lesson? Perhaps she should have sheltered me from the truth? Whatever the answer, 22 years ago, I learned violence against women is a thing. I have learned that lesson countless times since, but that day was my first, most harsh, lesson.

My grade 4 teacher was getting frustrated with me as I hung back, too frozen with fear to take the few steps I needed to take to join the line up of girls so we could go inside. I was holding up everyone as she waited for me. I only remember looking at my feet, the brick wall, and her angry face.

22 years ago I walked to school and was afraid. I looked over my shoulder my whole foot-dragging way, my heart beat quickening as I approached my elementary school because when I arrived there I knew I would have to get in line with rest of the girls. I was too afraid.

Every December 6th since I started University I tell myself that I will go to a memorial ceremony. Now I live only a metro ride away from Ecole Polytechnique, but every December 6th I find myself hampered by the pressures of final exams and term papers. These past few years in Montreal, I find myself buried under piles of grading, research projects and my never-ending thesis. December 6th goes by and I think about how I wasn’t able to get to a memorial yet again.

Still unable to join the line up of girls, my teacher has lost her patience and has demanded that I go inside and wait for her outside the classroom. I run past the line up of girls, past my teacher, through the doors and waited. No one could know my relief, I didn’t even care that I was going to be in trouble.

Back at home that night my mother and father, who are about to separate for the final time, are talking more obscurely about the shooting now. That he targeted them because they were women at a technical school, that he was angry because they took his potential place in an engineering class, that he hated feminists and that authorities found a note that specifically mentioned other Quebec feminists that he meant to kill. The number of dead still unclear, but 14 women was the latest figure. Men too were killed, though that number was still unknown. The shooter is dead. My father’s head is bowed over his plate, my parents can’t decide how they feel about the shooters suicide 20 minutes after the first bullets were fired.

Today is like every past December 6th. I am at my desk. Today I grade papers. Today I will work on a research project involving women, business, employment in the Middle East and North Africa. I am the religious studies eye in this project though I have no background in economics; I am lucky enough to be able to ask how does religion effect women’s entrepreneurial progress in the MENA? Today I won’t go to a memorial, even though I am disappointed, that I can’t again. This is my shrine to the 14 dead, 10 injured women. Today I work for them.

When my grade 4 teacher finally approached me to demand to know why I was disobeying her. I blurt to her that a man shot girls that were lined up against a wall and that I was too afraid. Her furrowed brow and angry mouth changed to soft eyes and as she took a deep breath, her mouth fell open. She came down closer to my level and put her hands on my shoulders, she told me that what happened in Montreal would not happen to me, ever. She gave me a long hug and sent me for a drink of water. Which was elementary school code for take a walk, take your time.

I guess I am still taking my time, still remembering them, that fear not quite gone. Apparently I am not the only one for which December 6th 1989 marks the day they learned about violence against women. In Canada it has become our National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. I have the Remembrance part down. My Action will be going about my business. Grading student papers, working on the aforementioned research project, later going to band practice.  Even if I don’t get to a memorial for another 22 years, I won’t stop remembering, and I won’t quit being an active member of academics, music, feminism, my life.

About the Author

|Montreal Music Contributor| I have a little room with a big window, a little dog with a big bark, and little bike that goes real fast. I also play music, write essays, research and edit, edit, edit. Here, I write feminist about music.



Toronto Cabaret Queen Ryan G. Hinds Graces #MTL’s Just for Laughs

Just for Laughs is well underway, and Montreal is getting an extra serving of gay at this year’s festival. Every year is a big year for this event, but 2013 is boasting some of the worlds funniest LGBT and queer stand up acts...
by Ian


TACO Tongue Trials: Go Try Maïs – Now!

  When you’re trying to adhere to a lighter fare lifestyle, it can be challenging to find a restaurant choice that won’t leave you feeling gluttonous, nevermind-I’m-not-coming-out-tonight, full feeling. Tacos (when w...
by Caitlin


Tongue Trials 1: Dim Sum

La Maison Kam Fung 1111 St Urbain St Metro Place D’Armes Dim Sum is kinda like the Chinese version of Tapas but way more fun. Bite sized portions of Chinese dishes are served on small plates or in steam baskets that are c...
by Sarah



Feet Don’t Fail Me Now: From Finish Line To Starting Over

//Oh my heart it breaks every step that I take, but I’m open at the gates they’ll tell me that you’re mine.// I feel you, Lana. This fall, I ran my first, and only marathon, also my first race and competition ever and sim...
by Ian


Photo Contest & Giveaway! Win An Evening with Comedienne DeAnne Smith & (Sexy) Guests!

One of my favorite weeknight traditions is  to grab a few friends and head to a cheap comedy show at Comedy Works. I mean what could be better than a few friends, drinks, and some lively stand up? Well some might say a strip b...
by Sarah

Coll2011-010 ACT UP/Los Angeles records

World AIDS Day: Are We Not Angry or United Enough Anymore?

What do you know about AIDS? Last week I had the privilege of watching what ended up being one of the most profoundly moving and eye opening documentaries that I have ever seen. The film, United in Anger: a History of ACT UP do...
by Caitlin



We Love: Artists Against AIDS Worldwide Music Video (2001) “What’s Goin’ On?”

Today is World AIDS Day, and I stumbled accross this all star music video version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On?” from 2001. The video by Artists Against AIDS Worldwide features all of the biggest nam...
by Erika


World Aids Day: A Day With(out) Art

Today, and for the week leading up to World AIDS Day, art shows, galleries, and artists partner with grassroots AIDS service organizations to help raise funds and awareness of the AIDS pandemic. Since 1981 AIDS has resulted in ...
by Sarah

Reflections on a Movember to Remember

Reflections on a Movember to Remember

If there is one thing I’ve learned from Movember, it is that you do not question its legitimacy and purpose. Movember is not interested in educating anyone about the prostate or prostate cancer. Its sole purpose is the establ...
by Hector



  1. Ty

    Thanks for sharing this story Ashleigh. wow. :(

  2. Li

    Wow, this was nice…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *