Tonight the streets are nearly empty as I stroll him through the shortcut behind the nearby funeral home. We just miss the green light because my feet refuse to do more than shuffle today. This is the time of month I feel so damned sorry for myself, moreso for the little man who wonders why his mama is just not up to par for a few days each month. My cycle began on Friday, the 12th anniversary of the due date of my first pregnancy. I try to imagine having a 12 year old running around me right now. Wow. That would be kinda neato.
The thought inspires a brief smile and peek far above to glimpse twinkling stars and think on my lost babies. Not really lost to me since I hold them close within my heart still. He kicks his legs along with the rhythm of the wheels as they hit the sidewalk cracks. We're on our way to return a late film rental. I was not sure I'd venture out tonight. It's minus 6 celcius and we are completely bundled though Mama cannot walk at her usual fast pace tonight. A pause as I bite my lip against the searing pain of the cramp and accompanying clot which nearly cripple me and we resume the stroll again. Today proved vastly difficult to get out of bed. I think back to before I had him when I would down some tylenol 3s with a glass of water and lie supine in bed with hot water bottle pressed against my insides on these days. Just knock myself out entirely against the pain of it.
No longer can I afford such luxury when it hits. And because I am nursing, no meds either. The entire weekend I move as though under water and he looks at me curiously. What's wrong, Mama? Why aren't you laughing, tickling and giving me spacerocket rides on your feet to swing me above your tummy? Not today, angel. In a few days...
We get home and I bathe him to warm his toes and fingers. He smiles up at me while I read him bedtime stories and cuddle him for his bottlefeed. He does not fight sleep tonight. Perhaps he can sense that I need the break and for this, I am thankful.
Downstairs I begin to tidy. From above my desk, my great-grandmother eyes me, a baby in her lap. She was a teacher who eventually went blind. She had birthed 10 or 11 children, the last 3 during her blindness. My own grandmother, the aforementioned baby, raised a large brood of her own children in Depression-era Ireland. The sink fills as I glance over at the photo of my mother at 17. I consider my own life and how easy I have it. So this line is the core from which I gather my own strength to get through the sorry-ass "hardship" I endure once a month? On the other side of the world, women do almost all the labour while the men sit under trees, drink beer and watch them haul water on their heads, firewood on their backs, children at their hips.
A calendar hangs near the sink and I realize tomorrow is December 6th. Twenty-one years have passed since the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal, where a gunman separated the men from the women in an engineering class and shot only the women. Only the women. Because he had applied to the programme himself and was turned down. Because he wondered why women should be allowed to enter a predominantly male programme and he could not? The men in the classroom were asked to leave and they all left. They were young and this man had a gun. A rifle. They had to have heard the shots from outside the classroom, down the hallway as they exited. I wonder how they feel about what happened. I wonder what it is they suffer at having survived the ordeal. Do they suffer? Knowing it was their gender that saved them? I wonder more about the women who were lost. The disbelief, the realization as the first woman is shot that this is it. Their whole lives ahead of them and this bastard is gunning them down.
Tears hit the dishwater and I ask myself just what the fuck do I have to complain about? Cramps? I am alive. I breathe. I have lived through my 30s, am experiencing my 40s. I have known the Joy of loving one Great Love in my life. I have had the pleasure of much laughter and other loves and lovers since. The incomparable ecstasy of carrying a child in my womb. Of giving birth. I have been blessed with motherhood. I work a job I enjoy with good pay and great benefits. I own a beautiful home in which to raise my son. These women had yet to live such wondrous moments in their lives.
I will never forget the day they were killed. That I was the same age as some of them at the time. I recall trying to imagine back then, at 22, having my own life end in such a tragic and hateful way. But I couldn't imagine it. I still cannot at 43.
This guy may have murdered these women, but he was so wrong. We are not the weaker sex. Not only can we do the same work as men do, but no one can destroy our ability to do so even by paying us less, never mind killing us. We can do anything. We are women. We will still defeat any sexist agenda. We will outlive it, even if we are dead. Our names will be read aloud and people will remember us. Young women capable of anything. We are women.
We will not take a rifle and execute others. Such acts are of pure cowardice. We are stronger than that. We can survive even the death rained upon us. We are women.
We can knit and we can do engineering. We can bake pies and calculate Pi algorithms. We can change diapers and policies. We can run classrooms and countries. We can give birth and we can choose not to. We are women. We have the right and the smarts.
I drain the sink. Inside my lower back, two imaginary clenched fists twist its muscles along with my ovaries. But I clean these rooms before I hit the hay. I whisper a small prayer of thanks for having that privilege. For being born a girl. For being the woman I am in the country to which I was born. I am lucky. I am strong. I am woman. Hear me roar, even as I yawn and climb the stairs slowly.
And before I ascend to bath and bed myself, I sit here at this computer and write. And I speak aloud the names of the 14 women whose lives were taken that day in 1989. I light a candle and gather strength from their wisdom, their smiles and all they accomplished in their young lives before they were taken so untimely and tragically from their families, their loves. From us all.
Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
Annie St-Arneault, 23
Annie Turcotte, 21
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Barbara Maria Klueznick, 31
Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Maud Haviernick, 29
Maryse Laganière, 25
Maryse Leclair, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Sonia Pelletier, 28
Michele Richard, 21
Apparently the link I'd included with some bio information is not working properly so I am copying and pasting the bios I found here:
Who They Were
Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering. She loved outdoor sports like skiing, diving and riding and was always surrounded with friends.
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a fourth year student in mechanical engineering.
Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student from La Tuque, Que., a Laurentian pulp and paper town in the upper St-Maurice river valley. She lived in a small apartment in Montreal. Her friends considered her a fine student. She was killed as she sat listening to a presentation in her last class before graduation. She had a job interview with Alcan Aluminium scheduled for the following day. She had talked about eventually getting married to the man who had been her boyfriend since she was a teenager.
Annie Turcotte, 21, was in her first year student in engineering materials. She lived with her brother in a small apartment near the university. She was described as gentle and athletic - she was a diver and a swimmer. She went into engineering so she could one day help improve the environment.
Barbara Daigneault, 22, was to graduate at the end of the year. She was a teaching assistant for her father Pierre Daigneault, a mechanical engineering professor with the city's other French-language engineering school at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
Barbara Maria Klueznick, 31, was a first-year nursing student. She arrived in Montreal from Poland with her husband in 1987.
Geneviève Bergeron, 21, was a second year scholarship student in civil engineering who could easily have become a musician instead of an engineer. Her friends and family described her as a happy person. On the last day of her life, Genevieve had gone to the school to work on a project with her friends. She played the clarinet and sang in a professional choir. In her spare time she played basketball and swam.
Hélène Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her Master’s degree. She had three job offers and was leaning towards accepting one from a company based near Toronto.
Maud Haviernick, 29, was a second year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design from the University of Quebec at Montreal.
Maryse Laganière, 25, was the only non-student killed. She worked in the budget department of the Ecole Polytechnique. She had recently married.
Maryse Leclair, 23, in fourth-year metallurgy, had a year to go before graduation and was one of the top students in the school. She acted in plays in junior college. She was the first victim whose name was known and she was found by her father, Montreal police Lieut. Pierre Leclair.
Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take a two-week vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with Hélène Colgan at the end of the month.
Sonia Pelletier, 28, was the head of her class and the pride of St-Ulric, Que., her remote birthplace in the Gaspe peninsula. She had five sisters and two brothers. She was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering and had a job interview lined up for the following week. She was awarded a degree posthumously.
Michele Richard, 21, of Montreal, was in second-year engineering materials. She was presenting a paper with Haviernick when she was killed.
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