Say What?

Solving the Misery I Can See

A 4 year old husky escaped its owner and killed 27 animals in just a few hours in Utah during Memorial Day weekend. A dog that goes on a killing rampage is not just ‘being a dog’ or possessed of a high prey drive. A dog that kills more than 2 dozen animals after escaping its home has not been socialized well. They are cooped up too much and don’t get enough exercise. Dismissing aberrant behaviour lets individuals off the hook and we have been doing that far too long.

I am afraid of men. Wait. Let me clarify.  I am afraid of some men. I have three brothers, a father, plenty of male cousins, and an adorable nephew; violence is not a problem in my family. I grew up middle class on the southern side of London Ontario and always felt safe. Then 1989 happened and I realized I was prey.

When the news of École Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989 broke I remember being worried for my friend Christopher. 14 people dead and 4 wounded and they were not releasing names. The idea that the perpetrator targeted women was incomprehensible to me. This was a man who believed women had something that he deserved, namely jobs. That was the day I learned there are men who hate women for no other reason than their gender.

In 1990 when I left home to study theatre at the University of Toronto, 21 year old Lynda Shaw, a UWO student studying engineering ,went missing after she stopped at a Burger King off the 401. 6 days later her burned, raped, and mutilated corpse was found near the highway.  It took 15 years to solve the case and the man who did it (now deceased) was a convicted murderer who’d killed Shaw while on parole. The authorities refuse to release his name citing privacy laws, which is a rich and bitter coda.

And in 1992 Ontarians learned about Paul Bernardo, the Scarborough Rapist and his succubus partner, Karla Homolka, who raped and murdered Kristen French, Leslie Mahaffy, and Homolka’s younger sister, Tammy. There were dismemberments, gruesome video recordings, backroom deals, and scores more rapes that didn’t make the papers until long after Bernardo was convicted. What was particularly horrifying was the fact that Homolka lured the women with a smile in order for Bernardo to grab them.

These 3 incidents, starting when I was 18, were the foundation of my fear for more than 15 years and it’s only lately that I’ve felt less frightened that harm would come to me at the hands of a man. This is in part because I know many wonderful men who are good to their friends, family, and secure in themselves. The news can be a toxic delivery system of information and I haven’t been immune.

That being said, the fear is back.

After a wonderful night at the theatre this week my friend dropped me off in front of the Airbnb I was staying in for a few days. I was tired, but happy. I kicked off my shoes, sat down, checked some emails, and then brushed my teeth. I unhooked the back of my dress, took off my earrings, and as I tossed them onto the bedside table while walking out of the bedroom I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I whipped around and looked to the left side of the bay window. Was that a…face? The term ‘my blood ran cold’ is the best description I can describe when filled with absolute terror. Fight or flight are real reactions to danger but so is freezing in fear. There was a white man looking at me through the window at 1:18 in the morning. I’d closed the blinds but left them open a few inches when I left the house 6 hours prior.

I walked towards the window slowly, my heart racing, thinking that he’d run. He did not. He continued to stare at me. I got right up to the window, leaned down, and banged on the window yelling, ‘Get out of here!’ That’s when he fled. I ran around the house closing every curtain that I could and turned off the light in the sitting room that faced out to a giant backyard.  I was shaking. I didn’t know what to do. I should have called the police but I didn’t because I figured it would take forever for them to arrive and he’d be long gone. I texted the host of the Airbnb and told her what happened. I locked myself in the bathroom and changed into my pyjamas. I checked, double checked, and then triple checked that the front door was locked. I stacked the garbage can and recycling bin in front of the door so that if he broke in I’d hear it and…what? What would I do? For the first time I left my cell phone on and placed it beside my bed in case I needed to call 911.

I got into the gigantic, luxurious king-sized antique bed, kept the light on, and tried to sleep. I turned the light off and closed my eyes, but every creak, beep, and crack was the chubby, bald, unblinking man breaking in. I convinced myself that a Peeping Tom was harmless and that he had to be long gone. I slept for less than 2 hours.  My train was at 8:40 am and I couldn’t get out of that house soon enough.

The host reimbursed me more than 50% of my fee and apologized. I spoke to a police officer who said calling them would have been the right thing to do and never to hesitate if something like that happens again. I looked up at him. He was probably 6’4” and I’m 5 feet tall. I felt very vulnerable and said, ‘Well, I don’t want that to happen again.’

I can’t think of anything wise to wrap up. That man probably watched me get dropped off by my friend, saw me wave at her to indicate that I was fine, and waited until she drove away. Peeping Toms are not harmless; they start with voyeurism and can escalate to violence. I will not excuse the man by saying ‘maybe he was on something’ or ‘a little disturbed’. I won’t blame myself for leaving the blinds open 3 inches. I also do not blame the host of the Airbnb because a Peeping Tom can be active for years without being caught; she should, however, install movement activated lights around the house. I’m glad I was checking out of that place the following morning. I forgot that there are predators everywhere and vigilance in keeping oneself safe is paramount. Writing all of this down makes me feel better; writing is my salvation. Taking Neil Gaiman’s advice, I will channel the experience into something creative and make good art.

Stay safe, everyone.