Posted: Sept 25, 2019
I was never very political but several friends in high school were a bit over the top that way. Jim was one of them. In grade thirteen (yes that is not a typo, Ontario, Canada had a grade 13 until the late 1990s) the best descriptor I heard of how to get directions to Jim’s political position was to:
“Start on Karl Marx Avenue and then as soon as possible take a sharp left”.
He has mellowed a lot since then but at the time he had a lot of admiration for the policies of Pierre Trudeau who at the time was moving Canada away from the American capitalist dominated democracy model to the more democratic socialism model of most of Europe and Scandinavia.
In recent times while he recognizes the problems of many “new” Canadians wanting Canada to just be a free place but largely a variation on the American model, he still laments the loss of a strong left but has had great hopes for Justin Trudeau. So it is with this background that I got a terrified call from him last week, quite stressed about Justin Trudeau in an image in blackface.
For many of us, the deepest scars of Canada are the way we treated Asian Canadians during the second war, turning away Jews who were fleeing Europe during the war and our awful treatment of our indigenous and Inuit peoples from the first arrival of Europeans until not that long ago. It does not end there but these acts are “our Holocaust” and for some of us, who would like the country to move to more openness, equality, and tolerance there is a powerful movement the other way. So a lot of that hope for our slow but continuing evolution to a more equitable society we pinned on Justin Trudeau.
My buddy was pretty down when we skyped (yes I have a laptop now, a used DELL that Janice gave me after Jim had it upgraded and refurbished), and in our long chat I reminded him of the piece he wrote several years ago inspired by a story that happened in Vancouver B.C. about twenty years ago about bullying and intolerance. The story here is a real stretch of that original event but one that was a logical flow from the original story, especially now with so much bullying in the schools, and some of it racially driven. A lot of Jim’s writing is not up to a publisher’s standard but some pieces, like this one I like. I have reproduced it here.
“I hate Vancouver” she shrieked as she ran through the front hall to her room.
It had been another draining day. The bullying of his daughter had not stopped, and seemingly nothing could be done. As a single parent, he had moved to West Vancouver in the hope that he and his daughter would fit into a racially mixed environment. A lot of colleagues had told him “if you can’t fit in on the North Shore- maybe it’s you”. Aruj had taken these words initially as his motivation to make a better life for himself and his only child, but it now felt like an ominous threat.
His wife had left and gone ‘home’ a year and a half earlier because she couldn’t adjust. His secret hope was that when everything settled down and they had carved out a nice life that she would come back. Maybe just for a visit at first, but then permanently. Each Sunday they had a phone conversation.
He sat in the kitchen and made a tea. Amrapali was still in her room sobbing. The only comfort he could find was that they were working on the problem together. Neither one ever mentioned ‘The girl in Victoria’ who had died at the hands of bullies several years earlier. Or the one in Seattle who had recently taken her own life. “We will deal with this while it is a small problem” was the way he had come to express it to her, thinking it would offer hope and thinking that by calling it a small problem, he could somehow diminish the real magnitude of this burden. Every week he saw her spark for life reduced. Her flame was going out. He would have to solve this.
Even the house felt threatening. It was larger than they needed and with them both out all day, it did not feel lived in, or comfortable. They had not much more than a nodding acquaintance with the neighbours as everyone seemed busy with their own lives. The house purchase had worked out financially and when they bought it he thought the swimming pool would be a nice aspect, but they hardly used it, and it was a lot of work to keep it clean. But it was nice to look at and fun when business friends came over or on some hot summer days.
He poured the tea and took one to her. She was working intently on her homework now. As he scanned the room he expected it looked like every teenage girls’ room of her age. The remnants of a child’s life, from not very long ago, mixed with a teenager’s passions and punctuated with some shocking components, at least from his standpoint.
“In a bit, I will start your favourite dinner Amrapali” he said quietly. “Amy,” she said without looking up.
Setting his tea on the centre of a coaster he pulled out a pad with his strategy for dealing with the problem. As an accountant, he found it easier to set it all out on paper, both to organize it and as a technique to test what had been inaccurate assumptions or missed variables.
The list, nor the ones he had drawn up before, didn’t really help. The school administration was involved, the teachers knew, the police had come to the school and given a talk.
The real problem was a handful of girls and their parents. The girls tormenting his daughter were all privileged and their mothers controlled the Parents Association. Many of the parents of kids at the school were too busy to be involved in the Parent Association very often. They would support whatever activity had been planned, were very supportive of their kids, but with limited time and often two careers the turn out for the Parents Association was usually this group of ‘trophy wives’ several other moms and one or two fathers, depending on the issues planned for the meeting. He was embarrassed he had written TROPHY WIVES in capitals and crossed it out but wrote and circled twice: Parent Association.
As an independent school, the input of this group in both the evolution and administration of the school was considerable, linked to their family’s involvement and ongoing financial support often over generations, and items would only be put on the agenda if this controlling group felt it was appropriate. He had never felt so humiliated and isolated as his treatment at the meeting the previous week when he had raised the bullying issue again. The Chairwoman told him they were not concerned with the topic, that it seemed to have been dealt with already and seemed to be isolated to just a few incidents. They would not be putting this on the meeting agenda and the meeting would be focused on planning the next fundraiser. He pressed the point, and the chair decided to have a vote on whether this topic should be discussed or not – eleven to three against it being on the agenda.
As he packed up to leave the meeting he demanded they record the discussion and vote results in the minutes of the meeting. Her response had echoed through his mind for days- “The minutes of our meeting reflect the conclusions we draw, and decisions we make, not the distractions along the way”.
His daughter’s bullying, and by extension, his daughter, and himself had been reduced to a ‘distraction’. His only solace was that as he left the meeting he said to the principal, loud enough for everyone to hear “when you are at home in your own safe bed tonight you should reflect on what you heard at this meeting and evaluate what your beliefs are and whether you have a responsibility to every student at this school”. He heard one person clap as he left the room.
In the privacy of his car after the meeting, he cried. What was he into?
This self-absorbed group of women who spent all their time together working out, going to spas, planning vacations, and shopping had lost all sense of humanity. They were all educated, aware of current issues, yet oblivious to what they were doing with this school and to people’s lives. His upbringing and beliefs made him sorry for them, but he felt disappointed in himself that he was beginning to feel so much anger and frustration with them as well.
In the days following that meeting, the bullying girls escalated their taunts now making comments to his daughter about him and his ineffectiveness at the meeting. He had made things worse, not better.
He poured another cup of tea and made dinner, linguini with jumbo shrimp and garlic toast with a hint of mint and curry.
She was feeling better now, and they watched one of her favourite shows on TV while they ate. It wasn’t a practice he liked, but with everything else that was going on and her mother gone, it was a way to introduce some fun and special things into her horrible day.
After dinner, he did some office work. As he walked by the security system he noticed a blinking light on the machine indicating it was time to reset the recording. The system turned on whenever it detected movement in the back garden. The insurance broker had suggested it for liability reasons with a pool. Other than when a tree branch fell into the pool the only time the system turned on was when the raccoons would get into their neighbour’s garbage and come into their backyard to wash their food in the pool before eating it. Initially, he had been upset when this occurred as it meant his neighbours continued their sloppy garbage practices, but he and his daughter had enjoyed watching the antics of the raccoons on the tape and he was pleased to see they had another installment to watch tonight.
He put the USB key from the security system in the player in the family room and called her to join him. As he was getting the system set up he looked at the pool to see if the raccoons had left a mess, but it looked fine. “Did you clean up anything by the pool today?” he called.
She said she hadn’t.
The recording began to run, and the timer said it was from Saturday night. As they started to see shadows moving out of the range of the pool lights he began reflecting on what had happened Saturday wondering if it might have been kids or some real intruders. It had been a very hot but dry night. A woman appeared in the light. She was naked, dropped her pool robe on a chair and slid into the water. Before he could say anything to his daughter three more appeared, all naked, dropping their pool robes and all quietly sliding into the pool. Their voices were low, but it was obvious they were talking about the pool and the last one they were in and the next one they would go to next door. They were moving down the street going for a swim in each pool. After a while, they seemed to forget about the motion-sensitive lights that had come on and were jumping in the pool and laughing. The recording looked like a wild sex party. When they came out of the pool they started drying off in the warm night air and despite moving slowly to not reactivate the motion-sensitive lights the lights from the house lit them up well.
“Look at them Amrapali – they are all so pasty white, like statues by Michelangelo”.
“I think they are more like statues by Vince the Trainer, Dad” was her fast reply.
“Do you recognize the voices?” His daughter asked. He had not, but just as she asked it became clear. These were four of the parents of the problem girls and four of the problem women in the Parent Association including the Chair.
They looked at each other and started to laugh.
After they regained their composure, he wondered out loud, what they should do with this recording. “We will post it on the internet of course,” his daughter said without hesitation. “They humiliated you, their daughters and others are tormenting me, this is sweet justice.” Her last two words she repeated slowly “Swweeeeet Juuussssssticce.”
“But if we do, we will be no better than them. We will have become the bullies” he countered.
“They came into our yard illegally; doesn’t that count for something dad?”
Over desert, the two were into a raging debate over the question of how to deal with this change in the balance of power. Her spark was back, and in turn, his. This problem would have to be managed of course, but she was happy, and they debated on for some time before bed. They agreed to sleep on it and figure it out the next day.
He was up very early and surprised to see his daughter was as well.
Breakfast was the best it had been for a long time. His daughter headed off to school early and was happy.
“We will figure it out tonight! Have a good day Amrapali” he called to her as she headed out past the Arbutus trees on their front lawn.
“Tonight” she called back and turned back “I will” and then “Amy”.
She probably didn’t hear her dad as she walked down the sidewalk “Amy”.
She was at school early and said hi to a couple of classmates. At her first class, Amy got out her books, opened her laptop, and smiled.
P.S. As always, don’t be afraid to reproduce this piece but please attribute it to this website.