“For so long, women have been confessing to crimes men have committed and being punished accordingly.” – Laurie Penny, The Unforgiving Minute
This #metoo business has been heavy. So very heavy. Carrying the weight for so long, one has to wonder if you feel it any more. I can tell you that I do, in my face, my back, my arms, my thighs, my toes. I carry it in every fibre of my being because it’s imprinted on me indelibly.
Yes, me, too. I’ve documented in the past a long-term relationship that was built on emotional manipulation. I could also tell you about the first long-term boyfriend who wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He called it bisexuality, but when it came right down to it, he just wanted to have sex with someone else. I let it happen because I reasoned – at nineteen years old – well, I can’t give him everything. I left after the infidelity, though, three weeks after we had moved in together.
But what actually weighs on me the most? Is it those emotionally scarring long-term partnerships that preyed on my open heart and desire for love?
No, it was something more insidious. It happened when I was seventeen years old.
My parents worked for a synagogue in Hamilton, one of only three in the city. My father was the building maintenance worker, and my mother cleaned and cooked. Her cooking became so well-known that a beautiful catering business grew from that seed. I spent nearly every Saturday in the kitchen, running tuna salad, bagels, and gefilte fish into the ballroom.
I loved being the little churchmouse in the synagogue. No one paid attention to me, except one day.
One day the Cantor said more than hello.
He actually talked to me. He asked me questions. He asked me to sing for him and I sang an aria from Phanton of the Opera, the first soundtrack I ever commited to heart, and I nailed the high note. He was impressed and with that, as he said goodbye, he gave me my first kiss in the ballroom.
I already had a crush on him, so it was easy for a man eleven years older to read the signs, wearing his nice suits and driving his fancy cars. The first I could remember was an Acura, the second an Inifiniti. He gave me his phone number and I called him a couple times late at night, but I didn’t really know what to say to him, whispering into the phone so as not to wake my parents. Finally he invited me over one evening. I walked the three blocks over to the other side of Queen and Aberdeen. The first kiss in that private space was intoxicating. Just like I had imagined it and then some. He pushed me up against the washing machine, ratcheting our desire up in a way I had never experienced before. I fumbled with my hands, not knowing quite what to do, but finding purchase on his clothing, holding tight, not brave enough to try the buttons just yet. Eventually we made it to his bed, he turned on the television but turned down the volume, and we spent another hour making out. His fingers found other spaces to explore, but still I was too new at all this, too unaware, too reliant on someone who didn’t want to show me the map. When I got home later, I marvelled in front of the mirror at my bruised lips and went to bed that night with fantasies of a beach wedding, the smell of his cologne still in my hair.
For months I saw Acuras everywhere and thought of him.
But it was a year later, in the Infiniti, where he wanted to take my virginity. I said no. I wanted a bed. I wanted a little bit of romance, thank you very much.
So he took me back to the new Cantor’s place, in the middle of the day, a low-rise apartment building on Herkimer near a pharmacy. Every time I pass it now I know it as the place. The apartment was bachelor-filthy. A large screen television and an XBOX dominated the living room where the new Cantor was sprawled out on a foldout couch, still sleeping off whatever happened the night before. I was told to keep quiet as he ushered me into the bedroom.
Quick. Perfunctory. With little fanfare. He slapped his belly afterwards as he pulled his shirt back on and lamented, “too many Coronas.”
He leaned in to kiss me one more time as I lay on the bed, shocked and dismayed at what just happened.
“Now you can tell all your friends that you slept with Benny,” he said. I did, and I didn’t.
He took me to the Maple Leaf Pancake House afterwards. I still don’t eat blueberry pancakes to this day. As I looked up over the plate I asked him naively, “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now?”
He didn’t really answer the question, but he did drive me home. He went back to Toronto and he never spoke to me again.
I guess he won the bet.
Why did I drudge this up? It’s so irrelevant. No! It’s not. Because it’s coloured each relationship I’ve had since that time. Did he know what he would do when he made that bet? What was he thinking?
My fourteen year old nephew invited us all to see his school production of The Wizard of Oz last week. As I followed the cast down the yellow brick road, my mind turned to the age of the actors. The same age I was when an adult man decided that he needed to win a bet and take my virginity. In that moment, I was sickened and I still weep for the young girl that I was. Perhaps too naive and too enamoured with the idea of romance to realize what was happening. But I learned quickly enough and as I hear more and more #metoo stories that echo, mirror, and build on what I and countless other women have experienced at the hands of men who misuse their power, I have to wonder: are we ready to be good to each other again? I’d like that. It starts with sitting in the grief, seeing it from the other side, acknowledging it, and ultimately, hopefully, letting it go.
Here it is: I let it go.