Archives for category: Ripples

Be Prepared

A.V. Walters

girl-guide-pin

When I was just a kid, ten or eleven, “they” started a Girl Guide troop in my village. I was elated. The Boy Scouts—the male version of our Canadian youth organization—did all kinds of cool stuff. They hiked. They went camping. They learned sailing and essential survival skills. I wanted in.

But, Girl Guides was a major disappointment. We met regularly, paid our dues and stood around in formation. There was a lot of discussion about earning badges—and we all eagerly researched the requirements in our Guidebooks. There were no nature hikes, no tips on identifying wildlife, no talks on campfire safety (and, needless to say, no campfires.) Oddly enough, there were tips for the application of cosmetics. And, they emphasized the gentle arts of knitting, crochet, sewing, and swapping patterns. If I’d wanted that, I could’ve simply signed up for Home Ec, at school.

Just once, we had a promising project. We made camp stoves out of coffee cans, which were to be used with beeswax candles as fuel. Of course, when we’d finished with the tinsnips and wax, some of us decided to light the damn things. Our Girl Guide leader had a total fit. You’d have thought we were trying to burn down the building! “Who brought those matches?!!!”

I was a problem child. So, naturally, I complained. The organizers, a trio of women from our village, told me to be patient, that they were just getting started. But, I was bored. To amuse myself, I did handstands against the walls. My concerns (and restlessness) stirred up the other girls, inspiring them to look beyond handicrafts and sock-puppets in their expectations. We started practicing gymnastic moves when the meetings were slow or disorganized. Our leaders didn’t approve of gymnastics. (Admittedly, it’s difficult to keep your Girl Guide uniform neat and tidy while practicing gymnastics.) Consequently, I earned demerits, and was soon regarded as a disciplinary problem.

Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts continued their outings to neat locations, like the local Provincial Parks, and did nature hikes. Could we do that? The response was a “hike,” but not in a park. It was through our village, and down the local highway—marching. Marching In formation. We did about six miles. The other girls groaned. This wasn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Essentially, the entire troop was being punished because of my entreaties. I considered quitting.

Before giving up, I started asking the girls from next town over what they did in their Girl Guide meetings. Needless to say, their troop was far more active and interesting than ours. And, their dues were only a dime a week, while ours were a quarter. Of course, I pressed further, asking other girls, even farther afield what they paid in dues. Always, the answer was the same—a dime.

Finally, I brought it up at one of our meetings, pointing out that other troops paid a lot less and got more out of Girl Guides. Our leaders seemed a bit unnerved at my public questioning. They weakly explained that the excess was used to purchase their uniforms and to cover “incidental” costs. They were volunteers, after all! I retorted that we had to pay for our own uniforms—and we were just kids. I had done the math, and pointed out that uniforms for the three leaders could have been fully paid in three to six months—but that the imposed surcharge had gone on for nearly a year. (Obviously a young girl, like myself, had no appreciation of the cost of a used coffee can.) I knew it wasn’t like we were talking big money, but it was the principle of the thing.

At the end of the meeting, I was unceremoniously kicked out of Girl Guides. Gone. I should have, but I sure didn’t see that coming. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a Girl Guide. Our motto was, after all, “Be Prepared.”

Needless to say, it was no real loss; it wasn’t much fun, anyway.

 

A couple of years ago, I joined Facebook. As an indie author, I was told that social media was an important part of our “branding.” So, I put my blog feed through Facebook and accumulated a wide variety of “friends.” Though I enjoyed it, my Facebook page never did much of anything from a marketing perspective.

In 2015 and 2016 my Facebook activities widened to include political expressions. I wrote on issues of food and agricultural policies, climate change and the upcoming elections. I joined groups and made even more “friends.” My topics of discussion included resistance politics, protests and, of course, the elections.

Occasionally, I was trolled, challenged on my positions. Some politicians and political organizations were using paid trolls in their programs of disinformation. In my posts, I was always civil and thorough. If you challenged me, you’d best have your facts straight, because I was ready with mine. I’d research the trolls and, in pretty short order, could tell who was a legitimate person, and who was there just to make trouble. Real people had real friends, and they had longtime Facebook accounts, populated by photos and comments and, well, lives. I attracted the trouble-makers.

One day, recently, I tried to log-in to my Facebook account and was greeted with this:

“HELP US IDENTIFY YOU-

We’re working hard to make sure everyone

on Facebook can be their authentic selves.

We don’t allow accounts that:

  • Pretend to be someone else
  • Don’t represent a real person

From time to time, we check to make sure

it’s really you with a few short questions

before you log into Facebook. It won’t take long

and it helps keep Facebook safe for everyone.”

What? I’ve been booted off Facebook?!

The successive security screens informed me that, in order to regain access to Facebook, I’d have to upload a copy of a government-issued, photo ID. Some troll (or trolls) had fingered me! Of course I’m a real person. My posts were always thoughtful, cogent and informative. While I’m shocked that the exotic Facebook Algorithms couldn’t recognize my obvious humanity, I’m equally appalled that it is so easy to silence the voice of someone with whom you might simply disagree. I have a “liberal’s” extreme distaste for Big Brother tactics and I’ll be damned if I’ll provide ID in exchange for access to cat videos, photos of restaurant food and trolls. Make the damned trolls show their ID. For no clearly articulated reason, I’ve been kicked off Facebook.

They talk about Facebook withdrawal. Admittedly, I spent too much time on the site. It’s a major mind-suck. And, like any junkie, I’d talked about cutting back, or quitting, altogether. (“I can quit anytime I want. I’ve done it a million times.”) Hell, a recent study even suggested that low doses of LSD can eliminate Facebook Addiction! But I didn’t see this coming, either. I’m out—cold turkey. I’ve completely disappeared from Facebook. It’s as though I’d never existed. Gone. And, there is no way to communicate with the minions of Facebook to question why I vanished, or to explore other options.

There’s a recurring theme, here. I guess that in my own way, I’m a born troublemaker.

So, I’m recovering my personal time and enjoying it. In any event, the lesson is clear: Be Prepared.

 

 

 

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Asking For It? A.V. Walters–

Billy and I were assigned for the same two days off, a near miracle in our heavy summer schedule at the restaurant where we both worked. We planned it all, hiking and fishing, evenings with friends. Since I had pulled the late shift for our “Friday,” we agreed to meet at his place after I finished. He lived in a little studio in the upstairs of his sister’s summer cottage. I arrived just after our 9:30 meeting time but there was nobody there. I waited outside on the porch for a while, but the mosquitoes were biting. The short sleeves of my little German dirndl waitress outfit, didn’t offer much protection in the cooling summer evening, so I let myself in and went upstairs.

His room was sparsely furnished, a daybed that served both as a sofa and for sleeping, an end table with a alarm clock and a small table with a couple of chairs. I sat down at the table to wait. After about twenty minutes of clock watching, I got up and flipped through the books on his end table. I selected an anthology of sci-fi short stories and settled onto the daybed to read. After a couple of chapters, I dozed.

I heard him stumbling up the stairs, and could smell him, even before I opened my eyes. He was wildly drunk. Even from across the room I couldn’t avoid the rank stench of sweat and stale beer. I glanced at the alarm-clock, radium hands glowed just past midnight. Billy flipped on the light and I flinched in the glare.

“Hey babe, there you are,” he slurred. “Been looking for ya.”

I’m right where I said I’d be. I guess you’ve been at the bar.” I was peeved, and my voice didn’t hide it.

“Aw, don’t be mad. It’s our weekend. Time to party.” He came over and sat next to me on the daybed. He didn’t smell any better close up.

“Jesus, Billy, what the hell have you been drinking? You smell like a brewery.”

“Beer and shots—I kept winning rounds at the pool table…” He stooped to kiss me, but I pushed him back, mostly because his breath was so rank. “Don’t be a party-pooper, it’s our weekend.”

“Jeez. Go brush your teeth.”

He swung his leg over me, straddling me. He leaned towards me and blew in my face, laughing. I turned my face away, nearly gagging, and put my hand up to ward him off. He slapped my hand away and resumed blowing. In no mood for his antics, I put my hand up again to deflect his breath. Rougher this time, Billy grabbed my arm and pinned it under his knee. He leaned right up to my face and huffed his stale breath my way.

“Billy!” I pushed him with my free hand, “Stop it.”

He laughed again, “Ya gonna make me?” He pushed his face into mine for a long slobbering kiss. Even with my face turned I couldn’t avoid it. Billy outweighed me by forty pounds and was a lot stronger. He grabbed my free hand and held it against the bed frame above my head. With his other hand, he grabbed my chin and pulled my face straight, then kissed me again, this time with his tongue in my mouth. I jerked my face free, gasping and he laughed.

He let go of my face and started rubbing his hand on my breast, “I missed you tonight.”

“Billy, stop, just stop.”

“We got big plans for the weekend, remember?” He unbuttoned and then unzipped his jeans, reaching in and stroking himself. He leaned over for another kiss, but again, I turned my head.

“Billy, let me go. You’re drunk.”

“Not too drunk. You’ll see.” He leaned in for another kiss. I felt his weight shift and squirmed, trying to throw him off of me.

Light flashed across my closed eye, as my cheekbone and brow exploded in pain. I screamed and opened my eyes to see him pull his fist back for another blow. I tried to roll my head out of its path, but his fist found my jaw. Pinned in, there was nothing I could do. This was going to happen. The third punch convinced me. It split my lip over my incisor. I was no match and he was just going to batter me into submission. I went completely limp—but took one final blow before he had registered my surrender.

“That’s a girl, there we go.” He pulled the skirt of my uniform up over my face and wrenched my panties to my knees. He wrestled me into position and took what he wanted. I stayed limp and unresponsive.

When the grunting and heavy breathing were over, he started giggling. “Where are you?” as he pulled the skirt down off my face. “There’s my girl. Not so bad, after all.” He kissed me and stroked my hair. I retched. Billy leaned his head in the crook of my shoulder and rocked. “There, there.” Soon, he relaxed and his full weight settled on me as he started to snore.

After several attempts to push him off, I rolled him towards the wall and extracted myself from under him. He never woke up. Shaking, I straightened my clothing and stole down the steps and out into the night. It was only a couple of blocks home.

I stayed up all night, icing my face and pondering what to do over cups of hot tea. I never wanted to see Billy again. I was clear on what had happened, and who was wrong. The only question was whether I should go to the police. I weighed the evidence. We were boyfriend and girlfriend. We’d had sex before. It happened in his studio, where I’d gone willingly to meet him. He was drunk. Neither of us was “local” and with the summer season winding down, we were both about to leave town. The only evidence of a crime was my swollen and bruised face. I knew it was my word against his, and that they’d never pursue charges.

At dawn, I showered and dressed for hiking. I didn’t want to be around when Billy came for the rest of “our weekend together.” I stayed away that day, and most of the rest. If I wasn’t going to press charges, I wanted away. I wanted peace. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was afraid that if my father discovered what had happened, he might kill Billy.

At the end of that second day, I covered my bruises with make-up and went down to the restaurant to quit. I kept my eyes down, the swollen side turned away, “I’ve decided to head downstate early, to get ready for school.”

The owner shook her head. “You know, we were kind of counting on you to work through color.”

“I’m sorry. I’m a transfer student this year. I think I need to get my bearings.”

She eyed me and put her hand on my forearm, “You know, we could just fire him.”

My eyes filled with tears and I waved my hands, “No, no, I’ve just got to leave, got to get out of here.” She nodded and I left.

From the moment the first blow landed, I knew that Billy was a monster. Drinking may have clouded his judgment, but it didn’t change who he was and what he could do. I never questioned myself. It was so clear whose fault it was, that I was relieved of any guilt or self-doubt. It wasn’t about me. I was lucky to get away. Mostly I felt unscathed by it. I didn’t dwell on it; I didn’t talk about it. It didn’t interfere with my sense of personal safety, or factor into my relationships. For almost two decades, I never even said the word out loud—raped. I knew that by most measures I was lucky that I didn’t carry baggage over it. That was, until June, when George Will wrote that column.

In his infinite wisdom, George Will criticized government actions to make college campuses safer. He opined that rape-victimhood had become a coveted status that confers privileges. How dare he? He, who has the ear of the nation, but knows nothing of the facts, how dare he malign the victims of rape? I am not a violent person. I’m not one given to the solace of revenge, but on that day in June, I desperately wanted someone to do to George Will what Billy had done to me. Rape is not a club. It’s not a coveted status on campus, or anywhere else.

We have a rape culture in this country, one that favors the perpetrators of the crime. It’s evident in the pointed questions that arise after a rape is reported— Was she drinking? What was she wearing? What was she thinking? Did she lead him on? Well, what did she expect? Blame the victim—Boys will be boys, after all. I guess she just changed her mind about having sex with him. She’s only trying to ruin his reputation. She’s just looking for attention.

No, you assholes. Given how victims are treated, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most rapes remain unreported. Victims do the math, like I did, and know that the game is rigged against them. All you have to do is watch the news to know it’s easier, and less painful, to let it go. (Why would anyone want to be violated, twice?) I left town.

If I have any guilt, it’s survivor guilt. He got away with it. Did Billy go on to assault other women? Would a conviction have made a difference? I’ll never know. He was so drunk, I don’t even know if Billy knows that he’d raped me. I do know that nothing will change until the culture changes. We need a culture of respect and affirmative consent. We need to teach young men responsibility for their actions. I don’t laugh at rape jokes—but I see them telling them on the news.

It’s been nearly four decades, why bring it up now? Because nothing has changed! Yes, George back-pedaled later, admitting that he thinks recovery services are appropriate in cases of “real” rape. And we’re regaled by politicians and pundits who make exceptions for “legitimate” rape—in terms of victims’ rights. How is that helpful? Of course, any rape allegation will be challenged and have to be proven in court. It’s clear that the victims of sexual assault will be subjected to the same pre-screening, prosecutorial gauntlet that has always existed, and that prevents so many from speaking up. What exactly was the lesson of Steubenville?

So, yes, when more than one victim speaks up, it empowers others—not because their claims aren’t legitimate, but because victims have no expectation that their lone voices will be heard. So I add my voice in hopes that when our numbers are realized, society will be forced to rethink the gauntlet.

Meanwhile, the media idiots on Fox, in particular, are lining up to reinforce the women-hating status quo. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it from men, who have mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, and still feel it’s simply about sex, about titillation and about keeping score. It’s not. It’s a depraved, violent crime against women. It’s about power and control and entitlement.

And, I certainly don’t understand the women who spew the same victim-blaming blather—and I mean you, Ann Coulter, you and your ilk. Go ahead, line right up with the rape apologists and media whores. You must live in a magic bubble where you’ve never had to deal with the unwelcome advances of men. You help to create the atmosphere of denial that lets men believe they’re not responsible. I guess we’ll all take comfort in knowing that if you’re ever confronted by a rapist, you must have asked for it and, if you have the gall to report it, you’re just looking for attention.

Ripples…

ripples

Cuyahoga Ripples–

A.V. Walters

I was the number-four kid. As is often the case in big families, the younger ones are eager to catch up to the big kids—We wanna do it, too, whatever it is. We walk earlier. We often talk earlier (when we can get a word in, edgewise.) Even as a munchkin, I wanted to read. My older siblings were reading. So, I asked my dad to teach me.

Never one for dumbing down, my dad agreed, but on his terms. I learned to read from the local newspaper, The Windsor Star. By the time I was four, I had a pretty good handle on the reading part, though sometimes the topic was above my head. As a result, my dad spent even more time explaining what the news was, rather than teaching me how to read about it. From then on, I would spread out the newspaper on the floor, everyday, and pore over it. I always saved the comics for last—like dessert. To this day, I’m a news junkie.

I think the hook was set in April, the spring I was ten-years old. That was when the Cuyahoga River caught fire. I was mesmerized by the photo images of something that wasn’t supposed to happen—a river, catching fire and burning, caused by pollution! I became an instant environmentalist. It informs most of my decisions, from where and how I live, to what brand of soap I buy. So, there it is, again, a crystalline defining moment, followed by ripples—only this time, by ripples in a river of fire.

river fire

 

Ripples…

A.V. Walters–

ripples

Sometimes there are crystalized moments in your life, moments that are loaded in a way that forms who you will be, or that define a new direction that your life will take. I’m fascinated at how a chance event can snowball to construct an entirely different version of you, than the expected path might have yielded. You may not even know it at the time but, upon reflection, you can see how the impact of that moment left its fingerprint on you, and maybe on others around you.

We all have answered those “pivotal” questions, “Where were you when…” But they reflect a wider sensibility—that of a community or a nation. And I don’t doubt that those incidents that form the arc of history have an impact overall. What I’m talking about here, though, are the more personal moments—the AHA! events that took who you were, an instant before, and then mapped a new direction for who you became as a result.

 

From time to time, in this blog I’m going to address those ripples—in my life, and in the lives of those I know. I invite you to ponder your own circuitous paths, and how the “you” of today emerged. Feel free to share.

 

The Magnificent Radovini Brothers

stick built

We were stair-step kids, arriving with catholic regularity, one, nearly every year. Before long, our standard issue, three-bedroom tract home was too small, owing to our lopsided gender distribution. When the time came that my brother, the only boy, really needed a room of his own, we four girls were too much for the other bedroom.

My parents own interests were running out of space, too. My father’s woodworking and my mother’s new involvement, in the world of clay, were spilling out of the utility room and into the kitchen. So, my parents took the plunge. Together they sketched out a plan to expand our home to make enough room for our wild tribe, and enough for all the different things we did. An architect made their dreams into plans and the bank gave the go ahead. My parents found builders, the highly recommended Radovini Brothers. These young men accepted the job, but warned that, in the middle of it, they’d be taking off for two weeks for a long planned family reunion. As long as the project was enclosed before they left, and then finished before the end of the summer, my parents didn’t mind. How could they? They understood family.

It was high theater for us. It was summer and we were off school so we could watch. They were doubling the size of our house, there was digging, with its piles of dirt and concrete, and finally, The Radovinis arrived. We loved them. They were five brothers with mops of dark hair and sun-bronzed skin. They worked shirtless. The neighbor women came to watch. The Radovinis worked and laughed and sang—sometimes opera, sometimes Italian folk tunes. The brothers harmonized, in their songs and in the rhythms of their work. They brought enormous lunches, which they unpacked from coolers with great ceremony. Food was important. They ate with great gusto, the jokes and ribbing continuing between bites.

It was like being visited by the circus. They were as charmed by us as we were by them, a string of blond towheads, following their every move like puppies, soaking in the aroma of pine boards, and watching the building take shape.

Our house grew by the day—faster even than we’d been told to expect. These men loved their work, and loved showing off their skills. Our jaws hung slack as we watched the drawings from the plans take shape in the air. It was a two-story addition and they were fearless—walking out on the thinnest of planks, twenty feet in the air, tossing up tools to the outstretched and ready hands of trapeze-artist framers. We tipped our heads back and shielded our eyes from the summer sun with cupped hands, to watch. How lucky we were to have found such tradesmen! As the time for their scheduled vacation approached, they worked long hours, determined to frame and sheath the structure before their trip—as promised.

The oldest brother approached my father. Were we happy with the work? Of course! Sheepishly, he requested that my parents advance the full contract price. The brothers were traveling across Canada for their reunion and wanted a “safety reserve.” My parents, thrilled with their work, were happy to oblige. Hell, they’d have adopted them if they could.

In their absence, we clamored over the new addition like squirrels. We collected nails and pieces of scrap wood—which we hammered into odd towers. When parents weren’t watching, we walked on the skinny joists, high above what would be our new garage. It was all so exciting–we could hardly wait for their return.

My father broke the news at dinner one night. We knew that something was up. My mother’s face was puffed and red. There’d been an accident. The Radovinis, they were going over the mountains—with most of the family riding in a travel trailer. A passing car clipped their trailer and forced it, and its tethered truck, over the edge. Four of them had been killed, along with their wives and children. The surviving brother would never walk again. With him, all that remained of this vibrant family was the elderly grandmother and an infant child, who’d remained home. The singing and laughing, gone.

My parents never mentioned the money. And, from that day, we became builders. My dad rolled up his sleeves and learned. His weekends became building time. We were his cadre of conscripted workers, little fingers stuffing insulation around windows, holding the end of the measuring tape and carrying tools and supplies. He learned wiring and plumbing and tiling (Oh My!) So did we. He harnessed his intense fear of heights to finish the roof and upper walls. We learned to put our fears in context. Money was tight, but skills we could learn. We became a family that built what we needed. We never shied from what willing hands could perform. It took my parents, and us, ten years to finish, but it was done, and done well.

That continues to today—not a professional builder in the bunch, but my siblings, mostly girls, are not strangers to the working end of a hammer. The Radovinis came into our lives nearly five decades ago. Right now, I am poised at the largest project of my adult life—my husband and I are building a home. As I wrote this, the concrete truck arrived to pour the footings.

 

Pouring Footings

Pouring Footings

In my minds eye, I can see the Radovinis, perched, straddling the skeletal ribs of our new roof, drinking ice water from re-filled Coca-Cola bottles. They chug it down and pour the rest over their heads, laughing and working in the summer’s heat.