Sexual assault builds its own prisons – for the victims

Jian Gomeshi is finally the household name he already fancied himself to be, but for all the wrong reasons. As I write this, nine women have come forward relating their nightmares of being choked and punched by the man while on a date. He pled his case to his employer, the CBC, by producing graphic videos, resulting in his firing with a side of WTF. They were reportedly long aware of his penchant for sexual harassing women, and did nothing.

Statistics Canada reports only 6% of sexual assaults are ever reported. Why? Women know they won’t be believed, they’ll spend years having to publicly relive it, and they probably knew their attacker. It’s not the dark alleys we should be afraid of; it’s the guy beside us in the car or on the couch. How can we still think abusers can’t be charming and smart and attractive?

Unless we emerge bloody and beaten, we must have deserved it. In the process of an assault, women are playing a chess game with the goal of getting out alive. Don’t think if we stop fighting it’s because we’ve changed our mind. Sexual assault is violent, and to report it is to risk it happening again. Women are torn apart in courtrooms and when a man has already stolen one part of your life, you’re loathe to let him have the rest of it. False reports can destroy a man’s life, but only 2-4% reports are unfounded, meaning 96-98% are telling the truth.

“Date rape” is a watered down term. It downplays rape, so women believe they’re at fault and men believe it’s a form of courtship. Stop telling women to not drink, to not be alone with a man and to not wear provocative clothing. We don’t tell men that. How about men shouldn’t rape, period? Tell your daughters to be vigilant and smart, but tell your sons consent should be verbal and enthusiastic. Remind them consent tonight doesn’t mean consent next week, or next year.

32 years ago I was raped on a date; I later learned I wasn’t the first. I’d run from his house when I finally could, lost and in shock; it was a cab driver who drove me home though I had no money. All I could think was that my parents would kill me. Why was my humiliation stronger than a rapist’s fear of being caught? I blamed myself for what he did. This is what women do.

We teach our girls to be polite. We should instead teach them to trust their instincts. Leaving a bar alone months later I saw the bastard again. There’s the chess game – if I run, he might chase me. Instead, as I tried to leave I was slapped in the head and pushed into his car. Terrified, as he slowed in a construction zone I jumped out. I hid behind trees as he drove along yelling for me. I knocked at a house with a light on, and like that cabbie, the man who answered got me home. There are many good men out there. In five decades, this was the Bad One, the Dangerous One.

I should have reported him but even at 18, I knew my life would be derailed and nothing would happen to him. There are abusive men who hate women. I don’t give a damn whether their mother loved them too much or too little or if they were dropped on their head at birth. What I do care about are the women who are forever changed while these bastards move blithely forward safe in the knowledge that they will get away with it.

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Would you want to know what your genes predict?

I went to a psychic once. For $100 (ask the twenty-something me, not the me before you), I learned lots of benign things that made for good dinner conversation in the following years. Now for just twice that amount, I could find out far more information in a whole new arena. A California firm, 23andMe Inc, is set to start selling genetic test kits here in Canada.

Until recently, you mostly associated this kind of testing with who-yo-baby-daddy on bad TV. As medical science offers up bounties of new discoveries, it is now about taking that information and predicting the future. Send back a little spit, find out if you have genetic markers for over 100 health risks. Now, that would be interesting dinner conversation.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has placed restrictions on the kits, saying they need to be regulated like any medical product. They’re concerned individuals receiving such information would not necessarily understand the implications and may freak out. That’s not the technical term; but finding out you are conceivably at risk for a whole host of scary health issues is something they urge you to consider alongside your doctor. They’re right. Genetics are a starting point for healthcare, not an endgame.

If you have the benefit of knowing your family’s medical history, you’re lucky. Some people don’t, and some of us might be surprised to learn we are relying on faulty memories or dated medical knowledge. Both of my grandmothers died young, and their genetic stories died with them. Because these tests also mark ancestry patterns, there is the chance of discovering secret adoptions or cuckoo’s nest babies. Opening those results could be ushering in a lot of serious discussions.

So far, Canada is not set to place any restrictions on these tests, unlike their American counterpart. The company is distributing worldwide and nobody would have a hard time accessing the kits regardless of government barriers. Like most things, when you bring the cost down to attainable levels, people will respond. Is knowing this much about your genetic history dangerous?

I doubt it. Most of us watch our genetic future play out in front of us. We see what parents and grandparents deal with, and hopefully adjust our lifestyles to best prevent the worst while preserving the best. A genetic marker isn’t always a guarantee, just like not having a marker for heart disease doesn’t mean you can’t deep fry your heart into cardiac arrest.

I knew a woman who spent 20 years preparing to die. She wasn’t old, and the energy it took for her to track what she was certain was going to take her was exhausting just to watch. If someone like this gets genetic testing done, it will definitely give them more ammunition to make themselves crazy. While restrictions are no doubt being drafted up with someone like this in mind, most of us are seeking better ways to stay healthy, not an express train to the end.

I won’t get the kit, because I’d start over-thinking everything as my imagination ran around like a wild stallion. I don’t want a crystal ball because if I’m not already living my life in the best way I know, if I’m not already loving who I love and doing the things that matter and taking care of my health, then I’m an idiot. I’ve lost too many people I love to think you get a do-over. It shouldn’t take a mail-order spit test to tell you that.

Wouldn’t mind finding that psychic again, though. I have a bone or two to pick with him.

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Yoga: quiet time with my to-do list

I have never taken a yoga class in my life. I always believed I would be too loud, too impatient, too snarky to channel my inner Zen while folding myself like a piece of origami. Sometimes you have to slough off preconceived notions and move outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes you have to take a yoga class.

I did it for Pammy, 22, my son’s girlfriend. She joined our local YMCA and is enthusiastically embracing all their great programs. She thought I might like to embrace them with her, and her darling face looked so eager and so sweet I didn’t have the heart to explain to her I am only good at working out when I can punch things or growl swear words under my breath.

I didn’t know what to wear. I have yoga pants, but only because they were on the clearance rack at Old Navy. I do not wear them outside the house. Instead, I hauled on a pair of leggings and a t-shirt I got at an Ironman event; not as a participant, but I thought it would give me more sporty cred than a pair of 5 dollar stretchy pants.

We were a few minutes late and wondered where we would camp out. It was a beginner class and we were both beginners, but it was evident we were the only newbies. The instructor gave us mats and we plunked down in what we thought was a small clearing. Like a blob of oil dropped into a puddle, everyone around us scrambled away. I had no idea you needed room around you to yoga. It turns out you do windmill type things with your arms and your legs as well as lying there thinking calm thoughts.

With the lights initially dimmed, we were told to feel the ground. This was the part I was scared of, the mind clearing, getting in touch with your inner self, listening to your breathing part. As everyone around me exhaled gently and thought of nothing, I tried to make myself not wonder why the place smelled like feet while remembering I’d have to get the winter tires on soon.

The lady beside me soon clued in that I was copying her. I tried to give her a smile that was reassuring yet not creepy, but I soon learned that yoga involves a great deal of pretending you’re not seeing things that you are. I’ve pulled off more attractive poses while delivering my sons.

I was running a beat behind everyone else and also keeping an eye on Pammy, who’d ended up a row behind me. This was usually achieved by peering out between my legs while assuming the position they call Downward Dog but in actuality is more like Arse In The Air.

I was doing okay, for the most part. I wasn’t earning any style points, but I’m bendy enough that I could fake most of the poses once I’d seen someone else do them. Towards the end of the class, however, we were instructed to sort of squat. I looked at my neighbour who was perching herself delicately in a squat. I attempted to duplicate it. I fell over. And over. And over. I looked back at Pammy, who smiled and waved to me, like a small bird sitting on a fence.

I kept trying until they mercifully dimmed the lights, announcing the yoga closing ceremonies. Many of my neighbours pulled blankets over themselves, lying on their backs as the instructor’s dulcet tones ended the session.

I don’t know what they were thinking about, but I got home and called about my tires.

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Can’t get your kid off their phone? It’s your fault

Tired of only seeing the top of your kid’s head every time you’re at the dinner table or in the car? Wondering what text conversation could possibly be more important than a family dinner or some one-on-time with Mom or Dad?

Conservatively speaking, we’ve now had about a decade of societal saturation with cell phones and computers. Ten years ago, some parents were still debating if they needed the internet in their homes, and whether schools should be integrating computers into their curriculum. How quaint.

When my kids were small, it was Super Mario luring them away from riding their bikes and wrestling. I fretted over studies that said if I didn’t limit their screen time my sons would grow up stunted and fat, emotional cripples who would live out their lives in a dark room staring at a glowing screen, and that room would probably be in my basement.

Fast forward ten years, and the reach our children has is extraordinary. The world is literally in their hands, and that world, in turn, can send grappling hooks right into their developing brains. But I’ve noticed a subtle change in the response of parents. Back then, stymied parents admitted their children knew far more about computers than they did, that they were at a severe disadvantage because they were struggling to learn something their children had always known. They wanted to curb their kids’ enthusiasm because they didn’t share it.

Now, you’re upset that your kids are addicted to their electronics, but they’ve probably learned from the best: you. If you take calls outside of work during time you’re spending with your children, you’re still at work. You are not with your children. If you’re chasing your timeline on Facebook or Tweeting while you’re kids are in the room, they know exactly what matters most to you.

Don’t think that if you’re all watching a show you’re exempt, or if you’re walking along a street. Your primary focus is elsewhere, and they know it. We interact with our kids on many different levels and taking in the world as they process it requires you to be there with them, not randomly engaging between calls.

Sound harsh? It’s meant to. I’m indicting myself as well. I flinch when I see another person wheeling a stroller down the sidewalk, yakking away on a cell phone. It’s great that you take your kids to the park, but if you’re sitting on the sidelines with your nose buried in your phone, who are they going to be yelling, “hey, look at me!” to? And they do yell that and you yelled that and kids are supposed to yell that. And you’re supposed to be looking.

Car speakerphones are awesome, but the only thing that comes across to those with you is there are other people who are getting your attention. Once in a while? Sure. Every time? It’s up to you. Don’t think I’m only talking about toddlers and primary schoolers. Your teen might need those unoccupied gaps in a conversation, those lulls in the car, to finally bring up a difficult subject. If you’re always busy or distracted, there is never a good time. They will find someone to listen; you might not like who that ends up being.

I don’t know many people who haven’t been sucked into a vortex of wasted time on the internet, either on occasion or regularly. Our kids are no different, except they are even more suggestible than we are. You can lay down all the rules you like, but they will learn by watching you.


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I’m not moody, I’m just thinking

I am mulling.

It’s become a lost art. If you publish something about anything, you have to do it immediately, before someone beats you to it. People who write about TV or film have to write before they’ve even watched the final credits. Because someone else started writing during the opening credits. So, get it out there, forget the polish, forget the time to let the echoes catch up to you – forget the mulling. Some sites that used to provide great reading now don’t. I’m sure some writers push out entire columns in less time than it takes Jamie Lee Curtis to have a probiotic poop. Jamie’s results may be worth a commercial, but those dashed out articles aren’t.

Journalism has always been about the first and the best. Always. Good reporters are supposed to be right there in the middle of the night in the middle of the rain following the proverbial bloody footprints right after (and sometimes ahead of) the authorities. They gather and report facts. The great ones investigate. That’s good journalism – now also taking a huge hit in our Everything Should Be Free culture. But commentary is not that; commentary should involve reflection and opinion and mulling. Much mulling. Instead, all writing is becoming about following the bloody footprints, especially if those footprints were made by a pair of Louboutins worn by a girl who once had her own show on Disney.

My inbox is inundated with surveys and studies about every subject under the sun. This is the problem when, early in your writing career, you fill out a form so advertisers can target you with press releases. If you’re an idiot, you check everything from cars to children to insurance to women to relationships to parenting to nutrition to healthcare to teens to seasonal because hey, it all looks interesting. It’s not, and you can’t reverse that river. So, random stuff lands in my mail and sometimes I’ll find a good piece, and I’ll commence mulling. Within a few hours, someone who resisted mulling will be trotting out those ‘facts’. If I’ve mulled for a few days and I file for the following week, it’s like getting to a party and all the crab dip is gone.

If all you wanted were numbers, you could find them easily enough. We don’t need conduits who add nothing. Even if you don’t agree with my mullings, they broaden the conversation. I need broader conversation; the only people I know who believe they don’t are the people who need it the most.

I like to give things a think. Often I’ll start out with an opinion, full of piss and vinegar. As I mull and write and mull, I find things I hadn’t thought of or judgments I made that were off base. For too many of us, we rocket along with long-held convictions that are either wrong, or no longer right, or need an upgrade. Mulling lets me rethink and reframe not only my beliefs, but my assumptions. Mulling takes the wheel so I can put down the window and finally see and feel all the things I’d been missing.

I have a great friend who doesn’t understand my compulsion to re-read great books. Once she’s done, she’s done. No, I tell her. The book may be the same, but I am different. My world at 25 is not my world now, so it’s going through a whole new filter.

I have to give myself the gift of not getting swept up in someone else’s undertow. Life’s not always about the crab dip.

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Handywoman’s ego: Some assembly required

I have been in urgent need of a free-standing linen cabinet for my bathroom. I’ve urgently needed one for the two years that have passed since the bathroom was renovated.

A year ago I handed the task to my sister, Roz. She is like a slot machine for these kinds of problems: I just put all the factors in an email to her, pull on the arm and wait to see what pops out. She’s a detective solving a not very important crime.

For months, she sent me links. No, nearly, yes but too expensive, too short, too tall, wrong colour, too wide, wrong shelf, too cheesy … the list went on. Last week she hit pay dirt and found exactly what I wanted. After a year.

“It’s on sale. Hurry up, go get it,” she told me.

“OK. I’ll head over later today.”

“I know you. You won’t. I checked — the store near you has eight in stock, but they’re going to go fast. Call and reserve one.” I did in fact forget to go that night, but the next day Ari, 20, wanted the car and I told him he had to pick up the cabinet. I offered to write it down. He said he’d remember. The phone rang 30 minutes later.

“I’m in the store. What’s it called again? I don’t see it.” This is the way men shop. They stand in a store staring sadly at shelves, then call home to ask under their breath what it was they refused to write down in the first place.

He brought it home and plunked the heavy box in the living room. Ari is the one who builds things. I am the one who stands above him asking if he’s doing it right. Christopher, 22, is good with sledgehammers. With success sitting so tantalizing close, I couldn’t believe Ari wasn’t assembling it immediately. He muttered something about how a day or two hardly mattered after all this time.

I carefully opened the box and took out each piece. One by one, I checked off each component against the master list. Each panel, each dowel, each hinge. This took me about an hour. Ari wandered by as I squinted at tiny screws I imagined gnomes might use.”You think if I see all this stuff I’ll do it for you, don’t you? You’ll think I think you’re pathetic; I see what you’re doing here,” he said. I shook my head. “Actually, I’m having fun. Look, I made sure I had all the pieces first.” I waved my arm like Vanna White revealing a letter.

Ari remained in the room as I began assembly. He glanced over as I triumphantly fastened-and-doweled a front arch together. He frowned.

“It’s not lined up. I think you did that wrong.” I explained that you couldn’t expect perfect machining on heirloom furniture that came unassembled in a box. It was close enough. Half an hour later, I was frantically trying to wriggle the pieces apart — I’d glued the dowels — because one was indeed upside down.

It slowly took shape, my sense of accomplishment going up as the unit did. A glass door, burnished handles and small drawer finished it off. I had no pieces left over, a sure sign of triumph.

The drawer wouldn’t go in. Ari peeked inside and told me the roller things were upside down. He grabbed the screwdriver to remove them.

“You don’t even have to say lefty-loosey in your head, do you?” I asked him.

“No,” he said, smiling.

“I do.”

“I know you do.”

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While Mom’s away, the cat gets lost

I was away recently for work, and the trip took a Gilligan turn: I was away longer than anticipated. I decided to check in with the kids, which I rarely do. I usually ignore them if it’s only a few days, because initiating contact only results in questions about whose turn it is to take out the blue bins and which Visa card will work. I flipped Christopher, 22, a note on Skype to let them know I’d be a few days late.

We have a house rule when I travel, which is I’m not to be contacted about something I can’t do anything about. It sounds harsh, but they’re grown- ups (sort of) and whether I’m across the country or across the world, the logistics of getting back from sometimes remote places to oversee stitches or a leaky roof becomes a moot point; it’s already been taken care of by people more qualified than I.

“Doesn’t anyone love me or miss me?” I typed to Ari, 20.

“I do. I might sign up for a flag football league.” If this was all I was missing, I should be grateful, I told myself. A message from Christer chimed in.

“Maggie ran away for, like, 12 hours last week,” he typed.

Maggie is 13 years old. She is a 5 pound indoor cat. Maggie does not run away. My heart clenched, admittedly more than it would have if he’d said his brother had run away.

“What happened? Is she okay?” I felt faint.

“Ari was barbecuing and left the screen door open. She got out. We couldn’t find her inside later.” I pictured my wee calico girl lost in the wilderness, and then I read his words again.

“TWELVE hours?”

“I heard her crying in the rain on the deck 11 hours later. She’d been hiding in the shed.”

Now we’d added rain. And a shed full of spiders and sharp tools. Maggie gets upset if one of the other cats takes her special spot on my bed. I may have sent Christopher another note, and it may have said things like, “she’s my baby, OMG, OMG, OMG” and “is she okay? My poor baby.” Maybe. I’m also aware I said up there my kids could sew their own ears back on and yet I was searching airline schedules because my cat had been hiding in the shed and had been found safe.

It now dawned on me that the guilty party had been more interested in flag football.

“I JUST HEARD ABOUT MAGGIE!” I loudly typed at Ari.

“She just wanted to be an outdoor cat,” he replied. If there was a font for shrugging, he would have used it.

“She is not an outdoor cat. You are mean.”

“It’s not like I said, ‘hey Maggie, go sit in the shed and I’ll come get you in 7 hours,” he replied. I told him I loved him and I’d be home in a few days. He told me the cats should be fine until I got back. I was not reassured. I considered asking Pammy, Christopher’s girlfriend, to take a picture of Maggie beside a newspaper with the current date. I then decided they laugh at me enough behind my back. I sent Christopher a note saying good night and take care of each other.

“I’m fine. We’re fine. Go away. Love you. Etc, etc, etc.”

It’s those “etc”s that worry me.

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What lies beneath the iceberg of social media

How much could someone find out about you, even if you’ve never met? Should you care? I don’t mean the famous or infamous. I mean private people, everyday people.

When meeting someone new, small talk isn’t really small at all. Without fail, one of the first questions is usually, “What do you do?” An article recently made the rounds, the author stating he holds off that question as long as possible. When it’s finally asked – and answered – he replies with, “that sounds hard.” His thinking is we all believe our work is hard, and thus will be wildly flattered that somebody else appreciates it.

I don’t like stuffing someone into a pigeon hole to define them before I even know them, and it’s not difficult to ask what they write, research, treat, cure, teach, dig, draw, build, design, repair, service, save, destroy, lead, run or miss. You can express interest without pandering. I say this mostly because if someone told me my job sounded hard, I’d laugh at them. My job may require a lot of time, a skill set that differs from theirs and opportunity, but I can think of many things harder than what I do, like mining coal, battling forest fires and teaching Grade 8.

It’s actually kind of quaint to believe there is much mystery left. You can meet someone, excuse yourself and go Google them on your phone, if you are so inclined. Most people have something out there, and some people have an awful lot of somethings. Many put much personal information across social media and forget it’s there, hanging in the ether should anyone care to look. If you toss it up, I presume you meant to.

The problem sets in after the small talk, after the mutual niceties have sent us on our separate ways. If we meet up again, am I obligated to pretend I haven’t discovered you’re a rambling nut job, or do I have to go by what you have carefully meted out to me in person? At what point do we get to admit what we know, especially if information was placed in the public sphere by that individual?

We tend to herd ourselves in like groups, so I’m sure if you put Bible quotes up on Facebook you’re preaching to the choir, so to speak. If you like to babble on about the fabulous success of trickle-down economics, I’m quite sure your audience is also made up of fans of Ronald Reagan and whoever else is currently lining the pockets of the rich with the hides of the poor. Everyone can find a station playing their song.

A friend had to purge her Facebook feed of nearly all her family members. They not only do not share political views, she was tired of being assaulted with strident, one-note rantings about many things she holds dear. The problem is she can’t actually ditch them; she can “hide” them so she doesn’t see, but she’s well aware that the trees are still falling all over the forest.

If you stand before me and say something I consider racist or bigoted or sexist or simply way out of line, I’d just say so. Few of us rage face to face, but on the Internet, the hits just keep on coming. The integrity of social interaction still exists if we shake hands, and differing opinions are handled or skirted.

You might want to do a check on yourself (and your settings) to see what the world can see, and see what’s representing you. Employers check, neighbours check, people you don’t know check.

You should check.

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Your secrets are safe from your kids, until they compare notes

I nearly flipped right past the perfume ad in the magazine. I don’t wear perfume, and when those little samples explode I get a headache. If the Internet has been good for nothing else, it has saved migraine sufferers a lot of grief when they just want to read a feature about lifestyles of the rich and famous, or rich and saintly, or rich and hostile. But I stopped on this ad because of the list of ingredients.

Jasmine, rose and gillyflower. There really is such thing as a gillyflower.

My mom used to sing all the time. Whether she was dusting, cooking, baking or gardening — all the time. They were always songs from her childhood, which became the music of mine along with a little sprinkling of Dean Martin and Mario Lanza. She loved me a bushel and a peck; I was her sunshine; I was the apple of her eye. We had a piano, and my mom could play anything by ear using two hands. Her hands were light and graceful, her bracelet clinking against her watch like an added musical instrument. After a year of lessons I could manage a song about swans that I plodded through with movements that can only be described as goats wearing galoshes. In mud. The rest of us were not very musically inclined but her gentle singing was the backdrop of my youth.

I didn’t think about it much until the boys were born, and I found myself singing the same songs to them, minus Dean Martin and Mario Lanza. My less-than-dulcet tones were met with mixed reviews: I remember Christopher, at about age four, asking if I could not sing anymore. He said it gently, as if I was the toddler, but I got the message. Ari on the other hand, used to ask me to sing him “his” songs when he was tiny, but not too loud so nobody would know. I loved him a bushel and a peck; he was my sunshine; he was the apple of my eye. Christopher would have been but he turned out to be a music critic.

My mom played fast and loose with lyrics, improvising on the spot to personalize any song, sort of like a rapper in a tweed skirt with a roller set. My own special song was called You’re My Raineyflower. I have no idea how it went, only that it was my theme song. Then I overheard her singing You’re My Rozzyflower to my other sister, and in due time, You’re My Gillyflower. My sisters, Roz and Gilly, were listening to bastardized lyrics. I wasn’t sure how to let them know.

As a middle child and therefore the peacekeeper in the family, I used to just smile and nod when I heard my Mom singing the wrong lyrics. The world is a tough enough place without realizing that your mother might be lying to you about some things. I let it go, just another secret between her and her Raineyflower.

Until yesterday, when I saw the perfume ad. Gillyflower. I ran to the computer. There is no Raineyflower. There is no Rozzyflower. My mother’s name was Iris, so she could afford to be handing out flower names with little regard for veracity. I still have the gorgeous irises growing in my yard that Dad grew for her, and every spring I’m reminded of her gentle presence, her beauty that lasted a lifetime and her wanton disregard for the truth. I’m sure it could have been worse. For all I know she might have considered giving my Dad a personal song.


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The Brownie Pledge never included peeing on someone’s front step

I was a Brownie for one year. I was 7. I tell you this because the only time I remember is when I see a woman wearing a scarf that’s tied at the neck and I saw one last night. I recall two lasting memories of being a Brownie: how to tie that little knot on the scarf, and to remember not to pee on somebody’s front step.

I just looked up what Brownie’s get to wear today. T-shirt, cargo pants, a sash and a scarf. I had to wear a brown skirt, brown shirt, brown knee socks, a weird little brown elastic belt and that scarf, all topped by a little brown beret that made me look like an acorn. Today’s uniforms look darling; mine looked like tired dirt. But I will forever remember right over left and under, left over right and under. If you ever need someone to tie your scarf, call me. Perfect little square, every time.

I liked being a Brownie, though I would have preferred being a Boy Scout. I didn’t know why we had to wear skirts, and I was more into burning things than cleaning things. To this day my sister will tell you Mom lied to get me that housekeeping badge. She is mistaken. I did try to rack up the badges in record time, but housekeeping took me the longest. This is called “foreshadowing”.

I was already wearing clunky brown orthopedic shoes which matched the uniform perfectly, about the only thing in my life they did match. They were supposed to straighten out crooked feet that would ultimately require surgery the coming year, but they never did. Those shoes were ugly and they were expensive and I was bitter about them.

For the colder months, we could switch to brown leotards. I was now head to toe dirt brown, the only break that little knotted scarf. Like all good Brownies, we sold Girl Guide cookies door-to-door, Girl Guides who got to wear stylish blue uniforms I was too impatient to ever get to. I had never done a cookie campaign, but the fifteen cents we paid in dues each week was a drop in the bucket and the cookies were where the real dough was, so to speak.

An Owl (Brown, Snowy, or Tawny) would drive us around, her trunk full of cookies. We’d go in pairs, our tiny brown selves nervous but eager to do a good job. Everybody said weren’t we sweet and we’d smile shyly and they’d buy cookies. It was the easiest sales job I ever had, and years later I would wish I could use Brownies to sell everything.

An older lady answered the door at our final house of the day. As she went off to find her purse, we stood on her front step. I had to go to the bathroom, but thought I could make it until I got home, only two blocks away. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. By the time she got back, I’d piddled myself. I thought I was being quite stoic, smiling grimly as my brown leotards and orthopedic shoes took the brunt of the assault. “Oh my dear, you could have asked to use the bathroom,” she said, alarmed. So much for a graceful exit. I ran home. I still pass that house most days, and I’m sure it’s current owners have no knowledge of its dark past.

The lesson was never about tying the scarf. It was in knowing if I needed help, I could always just ask.

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