Mrs. G.’s Decision

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My mother, who is in her 90’s, lost a friend to suicide this week. Mrs. G. was 86, and as far as we know was in fine health. Her obituary describes her as active and involved; she enjoyed hik…

Source: Mrs. G.’s Decision

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Mrs. G.’s Decision

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My mother, who is in her 90’s, lost a friend to suicide this week. Mrs. G. was 86, and as far as we know was in fine health. Her obituary describes her as active and involved; she enjoyed hiking and travelling and socializing. I remember her from my childhood as one of the “nice moms” in my parents’ extended group. She was a cheerful and loving mother, who had four sons in rapid succession, one of whom treated me and my sister to our first-ever sighting of a penis. We girls were 4 and 6 respectively, and he was about 3, and was lying sprawled on a cot at his cottage, displaying his wares. We were amazed at first, then embarrassed, as our mother scolded us for staring. But Mrs. G. thought it was funny. She laughed, and went about her business of supervising lake swims and handing out cookies, making it all no big deal. And that’s all I really remember of Mrs. G.: a vague miasmic sense of happiness. I have long since forgotten her face.

Mrs. G and her husband and family moved to Montreal when I was still little. But she and my mother stayed friends. Over the years, Mum would mention visits and phone calls; she told me of a divorce and remarriage. Mrs. G. became Mrs. P., and moved to British Columbia. After her second husband died, Mrs. G. took in her elderly parents. In time, the father died and the mother became so infirm that she had to be sent to a nursing home, where she died at the age of 100. Meanwhile, Mrs. G., who was past 70, continued to…well, date. She eventually started another romance (“She always has a bloke around, that one!” Mum said), and the “bloke” moved in.

Two of Mrs. G’s adult sons lived overseas, and a third in Ontario. The fourth lived in the same city and was in regular contact, but their relationship grew strained. At some point in the past decade or so, Mum reported to me that Mrs. G. had told her that the son was no longer speaking to her. They’d been having some sort of difficult conversation, and Mrs. G commented that if they couldn’t get along, then maybe they shouldn’t speak at all. “Suits me,” said the son, and hung up. All future contact was tightly-limited and very, very distanced. It was one of Mrs. G.’s great heartbreaks.

I felt terrible about Mrs. G. and her sons, partly no doubt because of projection (my sons have the same names as two of her sons, and we’ve certainly had our share of difficult conversations). But Mum assured me that Mrs. G. was just fine. It’s true she seemed like a game creature: when the live-in beau turned out to be some sort of con artist, Mrs. G. managed to get out of the relationship (which involved evicting him: Mum said it “wasn’t pleasant”). Then there was another romance – “another man,” sighed Mum – and a move to a beautiful retirement townhouse complex overlooking the sea, where the new couple set up housekeeping. That went well until the gentleman developed Alzheimer’s. Mrs. G. called in his out-of-province children for help, but when they arrived, they packed up their father and took him back east. So that was it for Mrs. G.’s latest romance.

Over this past decade, as Mum’s mental state has declined, Mrs. G. and Mum hadn’t been talking as much. Mum has never been very social, and as her mind has changed, she’s sometimes been difficult to chat with. Perhaps Mrs. G. stopped calling, or perhaps Mum did, but there were no more reports of how Mrs. G. was doing. I wondered, from time to time, about Mrs. G. I chose to picture a merry elderly woman, coping stalwartly with the hurts of life: the sons lost to disagreement and distance, the husbands lost to death and divorce, the late-life loves that didn’t work out. I hoped for the best for her: perhaps another gentleman friend; maybe reconciliation with the angry son. I wanted the happy young woman I remembered to be a happy old woman.

But yesterday, Mum received a call from that son, telling her that Mrs. G. had killed herself more than two weeks ago. Whatever problems he’d had with his mother were not evident in the conversation with my Mum. He was very kind and thoughtful, she said. She made notes of the call (she knows she forgets things) and along with “very kind & thoughtful” she wrote “she took some pills.” There had been a funeral, and we looked up the online obit. It described Mrs. G.’s “active and independent” life. It was laudatory but distanced, as if the person who wrote it was talking about someone they’d heard good things about, but whom they never really knew.

Mum doesn’t seem that upset about Mrs. G. She gets this way sometimes, when there’s been a terrible shock. She turns into a sort of wizened female Mr. Spock, feigning a faux-logical, no-point-in-being-upset philosophy. But I’m upset, which bothers Mum. “Why would you be upset?” she said. “You haven’t seen her in fifty years. Why should it bother you?”

It’s a good question. I didn’t really know Mrs. G. anymore, and her story is no less (or more) sad than that of any other suicide. What’s more, I’m aware how much I’m projecting my own fears onto her. One of my biggest worries as I get older is the dread of outliving everyone I love and everything I love to do. I worry that that was what happened to Mrs. G. But she was only 86, and she was active, and she still had her mind. I hate to think she might have felt so forgotten and hopeless and sad that she decided to die. That’s much worse than thinking she killed herself because she’d received some sort of dreadful fatal diagnosis – an alternative that to me, makes sense. It is easier to think of her circumventing a painful death, than to think back on that happy young mother, chortling over her naked little boy, and know that sixty years later, she killed herself from unhappiness.

It would be pat to wax on about the necessity of geriatric mental health services and the frequency of severe depression in the elderly. If Mrs. G. was facing a terminal diagnosis, then she made a pro-active decision. But if she was lonely and depressed, then she didn’t need a twice-monthly forty-minute chat with a therapist, or a prescription for Prozac. Maybe she needed her family; a society; a loved one to look at and to look back at her. But maybe she had that, and she still chose to die. Like all suicides, she takes her reasons with her.

Still, there is no prescription – no cure – for unhappiness in old age. And if it was that bad for Mrs. G., well, then she did a brave thing. I hope she went to sleep believing that she would wake in a world where her children played around her at a lakeside in Muskoka, while a man who loved her called to her from the cabin, telling her lunch was ready and the guests were arriving.  I hope that in her last moments, Mrs. G. was – once again – a happy woman.

Shaming Melania

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Who knows what makes Melania Trump tick? She’s hard to figure out, unless you want to make judgey, slut-shaming assessments, based on her appearance and her past life choices. I myself don’t know that much about her, but what I’ve seen doesn’t exactly impress me. I’ve seen a photograph of her with a gold-plated baby carriage in a gold-plated nursery. I’ve heard an interview with her and Donald Trump on Howard Stern, where she gleefully participates in one of the grossest “are you naked now?” shitshows that you might ever wish to unhear. I know that she doesn’t write her own speeches, and if she does, she plagiarizes like a C- student in her first year of community college. She wears way too much makeup for my taste, and seems to have married for money (because who would marry that man for anything but money? If he were an average penniless Joe, I bet she wouldn’t have given him the fumes off her perfume). So yeah, I guess I’m not a fan of Melania Trump, based on what I’ve seen of her so far.

One of the things I’ve seen of her is a modelling portfolio photograph where she stands greased up and naked, with her feet spread in the standard come-fuck-me stance, her face in a Modelling School 101 Sexy Glare, and her hand covering her pubis. Yawn. Naked lady, baby oil, early gig in a wannabe modelling career, I get it. It’s no big deal. It was a paying gig and she was a model and it’s her life and get over it. If she wasn’t famous now, it would have just been another model doing another nudie shoot. Double yawn.

But when people who eventually become famous are found to have chosen to do nudie photo shoots, or porn movies, or to have worked as escorts, it’s often rather embarrassing for them. Rarely, however, does it turn out to be any big deal. In the modelling, entertainment, film, and other sell-your-good-looks industries, such early-career jobs are part of the climb upward. Nothing wrong with that.

But Melania Trump is not in those industries now – she’s a political wife. Unless we accept that American politics and the entertainment business have indeed now completely merged into a monstrous chimera of reality TV and anti-intellectual, anti-social, just-plain-horrible political-office-seeking people (looking sort of like the monster at the end of Poltergeist II),Poltergeist II: The Other Side movie scenes poltergeist ii the other side ending monster carol melaniadonald

she’s going to have to meet a scrupulous standard of intellect, conventional attractiveness, and public service that has little to do with the game-show/gong-show/horror show that was her husband’s campaign. That’s going to be hard for her: self-evidently, Melania’s choices in her life indicate that she was looking for a high income, low-labour lifetime gig: a rich husband, a gold-plated nursery, and lots of servants. She wasn’t actually expecting to have to work.

So do we get to shame the new First Lady, for the choices she made when she was working her way up in the entertainment/trophy wife industries? In short, do we get to point to her nudie photo and giggle and smirk and make jokes? Some say yes: after all, she’s a public figure. She hooked her gold-digging wagon to a big star (the biggest, the hugest, the greatest), and at no point did she ever unhook it. So she’s a nudie-photo model and a gold-digger, and now she’s First Lady. Can we call her names for that?

No. No. No. First of all, we do not get to shame her for her modelling work. She was entitled to market her body for a possible career in fashion. No, we don’t get to fan ourselves delicately and shriek, “What kind of First Lady would pose naked – gracious!” Melania was a working woman doing a job, and well, some jobs involve getting naked. So no: her modelling career decisions are irrelevant to her job as First Lady.

As is her decision to marry for money. Sure, she married a hideous globule with a marmot glued to his balding pate, and she appears to have done it for money, because hideous globule/marmot. But that’s also irrelevant to her work as First Lady. If her heart (and her sexual response matrix) can accept something that icky, then that’s her affair (you should excuse the expression). We don’t shame sex trade workers and we don’t shame people who marry for money. It’s none of our business, even if the marriage is that of the presidential couple.

So in the face of all the finger-pointing, naughty-photo-sharing, and name-calling, it is possible to feel a little sorry for Melania. She is even more of a post turtle than her husband. After all, she didn’t want to work for a living – that’s why she married a rich man! Now look what she’s stuck with – a job! A hard job! So not only did her nudie picture career and her marriage not end up getting her the lady-of-leisure career she’d anticipated, but now she’s facing hard work. And she’s getting people waving these old pictures and her marriage-for-money decision in her face like she should be ashamed or something, when they were perfectly legitimate career choices for the career she happened to want. It’s not really fair game.

But. But.

You know what is fair game? Melania Trump’s betrayal of women. For that, we get to go after her, tooth and claw. This woman, and women like her – I’m looking at you, Trump supporters – threw their entire sex under the bus when they hooked up with that brute and his political aspirations. Donald Trump has  – without the help of “the media”, etc., etc., but from his own mouth and actions – showed himself to be viciously anti-woman. I don’t care if he has a history of hiring women here and there in higher-up positions. Lots of misogynists can recognize a single woman’s talents, and still be the guy who thrusts his paw up the receptionist’s skirt. And I don’t care if his two ex-wives still allegedly claim to sort-of like the guy (even the wife who swore under oath that he’d raped her as punishment for criticising his hair implants, and then retracted the sworn statement as “metaphorical”, when offered a massive financial settlement). I don’t care if you, personally, as a woman, find the guy to be charismatic or charming or a great orator or something else that suggests you might want to have your meds adjusted. Women like Melania Trump – women who follow creeps like that, and empower them, and marry them knowing what they are, and vote for them – are spitting in the faces of the women who fought and died for our right to vote; our reproductive freedom; our right to work safely and without fear of sexual abuse from our male co-workers and bosses; our right to say no to sexual advances; our right to an education; our right to not have to be physically beautiful in order to be successful (if you think that’s not an issue, try being an “ugly” woman some time). Women who follow men like Donald Trump are thieves, and they should relinquish every right that women fought for. Give it all back. Give back the vote. Give back community of property on divorce. Give back the right to work. Give back your birth control. Give back your education (if you have one). Give back your right to own property, for fuck’s sake – because women fought for that too. Give it all back, because you don’t deserve it.

Women who enable – who support – who celebrate – pigs like Donald Trump take every single benefit and right that stronger, braver, smarter women struggled to achieve, and they use it for their own benefit. Melania Trump is one of those women. She stands back in her high-high heels and her pancake makeup and applauds with her manicured hands and rattles her paid-for-by-hubby jewellery, while her man advocates for a regime that will make life for the rest of us women horribly, terribly, worse. A man who would grab us by the genitals and drag us back in time, to those good ol’ days that Trumpers remember as being just so damned wonderful, and which were anything but – for women.

For that, we get to say: shame on you, Melania Trump. Shame on you big time.

“If she weighs as much as a duck…”

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This is the first time in my recollection that I was actually scared by a Hallowe’en display. Normally I don’t find Hallowe’en scary – on the contrary, I love it, especially with everyone in this neighbourhood competing to recreate the most realistic cemetery or charnel-pit their front yard might allow. It’s all that, and chocolate too. The best holiday of the year!

But this year I found myself looking at a display that truly disturbed me, to the point that I had to avert my eyes every time I passed that house. It was a great effort – a very imaginative and well-executed rendering of an historical event- and the family had clearly put a lot of work into it. When I saw it, though, I was filled not with admiration but with fear, and pity, and sorrow. Which was weird, even for me – a possessor of a very active imagination and very thin skin. How come all the other yards – full of open graves and severed heads – didn’t bother me, but this yard made me shudder, and hurry quickly away?

This was their display: a half-dozen life-sized, upright skeletons, arranged on the house’s small front lawn. Four skeletons were dressed as Puritans, in black greatcoats and tall hats; they stood in a semi-circle, in an attitude of intense discussion, or perhaps prayer. A little behind them stood a skeleton-priest, clutching a Bible and holding one hand aloft. Behind all these men was the skeleton of a woman being burned at the stake. Her hands were stretched above her head, pinioned there by chains; she was naked, and her feet were sunk into an active “fire” (real logs; electric-fan-blown tissue-paper flames; smoke-machine smoke). Her face looked directly at passers-by, as her red hair tumbled down across her shoulders. She cast her empty eyes out past the men who had done this to her, and begged for help.

In front of all this was a large wooden sign: WELCOME TO THE WITCH TRIALS.

I was horrified. For me, those witch trials were personal. Those women – women like me – were killed because they were perceived to be misbehaving. They did not toe the line; they were perhaps very smart – smarter than the men around them – and they perhaps knew things, like how to use poultices or brew healing tea. Or how to run the village. Maybe they spoke too passionately; rejected religion; enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) sex with men. Whatever reason, they were singled out, and they were killed. They were hung, burned, and even crushed. Because they were women who didn’t behave like they were supposed to.

So there it was – I took the display personally. A little strange, but perhaps understandable. But why the fear? After all, it was centuries ago. We do not treat women like that anymore. It’s not a current problem.

But I fear – literally fear – that it is a current problem. I was not just mourning the deaths of hundreds of years ago; I was afraid for what’s happening today, as exposed by the American election. It’s not just Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, and his threats to take away our reproductive freedom. It’s the orchestrated and intense witch hunt that is underway against Hillary Clinton, to the point where her safety is at stake.

What has happened to Hillary Clinton’s reputation is the quintessential witch hunt. I’m not talking about legitimate criticism of a political figure. Heck, there’s lots to criticize her about. But there are people out there – lots of people – who want her dead. They want to kill her, shouting out just about every ridiculous accusation, some of them right up there with “she turned me into a newt.” And she’s not the only woman at risk for being powerful – or just for speaking up. The women who came forward to out Trump’s sexual assaults have all gone into hiding, and the one who had the guts to bring a lawsuit has just dropped it. Hunted down, she gave up. She was legitimately afraid for her life.

If Trump is elected, who knows what will happen? Maybe there will still be due process in the States under Trump’s thumb. But let’s not forget that there is a cabal of FBI officers in New York City who orchestrated the bullshit “reopening” of the “investigation” into Clinton’s email server. If the highest law enforcement agency in the land so despises this woman that they would do something like that, what’s to stop Trump for having her arrested? Who’s going to protect her, if the agencies meant to protect people are all standing around doing nothing – like those Puritan figures with their backs turned to the woman in the flames?

And that’s what I found so scary, in my neighbours’ witch-hunt display: echoes not only of the past, but of an active present, and of a possibly-foreseeable future.