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.
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.