Window on a Crime 3: Echo
I’d like to tell you a story about a recent crime in 3 different ways – I think about it as 3 windows looking into the same room. Oh, and there’s a 4th one at the end, but that one’s a trap door for escaping.
I’m a single mum of two sons, 17 and 12. The older one’s girlfriend, also 17, pretty much lives here too. I’m Indigenous and my kids’ fathers are both Black. We live right downtown in a 3-bedroom townhouse in a public housing complex. I pay market rent and am just now interrogating myself about why I had to tell you that last point. I think it has to do with how, when rotten things happen to us, we worry about how people will see us.
For the first time since the pandemic began, I went out of town for a weekend without my children, to a beautiful cottage up north, and they stayed in town with one of their fathers. On the Sunday evening, we were all to converge at home. The kids beat me, as the southbound traffic on the 400 was predictably awful, and in the car on the way there, I got a phone call.
The kids were hysterical: we’d been spectacularly robbed. They called 911 and I called a neighbour to go over; one father then the other went too. It was agony to be in traffic with the little one texting Are you close mummy we need you come home. Finally I arrived. Everything, and I mean everything, of monetary value in our home was… gone. All the computers, their PS4, a guitar on loan from our church, all jewelry, the brand name kicks, jackets, my fancy boots, my chef’s knives, and so much else, along with a jar of peanut butter and a can of whipped cream (?). The older kids do online school on their machines, and mine, well, my computer was mesmerizingly powerful, important as I teach online every single day. It also had the specialized platforms on which I do my job as an editor, and everything I’d written for the schooling I’d recently started. My grades suffered and I was let go from one of my magazines – publication deadlines can’t care that you had a good reason.
My home was a mess, but it was a crime scene. The police instructed me not to clean, torture for someone who struggles with anxiety and whose number one strategy when spinning upwards is to clean house. I am a hopeless mummy’s girl; I could not reach for her support. I couldn’t post about it on Facebook, the space of my aunties who would surely tell her. It’s a long and it’s another story, but hearing about this could quite literally kill her. No. way.
Here’s the third window, one way of seeing the impact of this crime.
The first post in this series dealt with how the robbery impacted my family’s body-brains; the second dealt with its symbiotic relationship with our sociogeographical location. This third window is broken and covered in fingerprints the cops don’t bother dusting for, like the real one, including the dirt on the floor, the night we came home. It has to do with how this crime echoes with the deepest grief of my life. Our lives.
All my relations.
My amazing mum completely, thoroughly inculcated me with a few lessons, one of which was titled It’s Just Stuff. Whatever I wrecked or lost, after whatever sort of scolding fit the nature of my error, she’d exhale with her arms floating briefly upwards, with an oh well honey: It’s Just Stuff. So it was that the first several hundred sentences I uttered upon learning of the robbery were, My kids are safe.
It’s taken me a long time to understand that many things I always thought of as “just what my family’s like” are actually Indigenous cultural orientations to the world, echoes of practices thousands of years old and ready to be claimed and celebrated for what they are. So. Lack of identification with personal or private property, check. Ha! So no, this whole experience really, really didn’t have much to do with material possessions. Not for me.
I wanted to start with a good thing like that, because it’s been a complex and heavy year to be Indigenous. My family is Saulteaux/Red River Metis from central Manitoba, from land just off a reserve, and miraculously I have no immediate family members who are residential institution survivors – a long story, some of which I don’t know, some of it almost certainly to do with grandpa’s genius. Or kookoo’s. Anyhow.
Last May when the initial 215 grave sites got media attention and the public remembered what we never forgot, fresh-old feelings grew white-hot for many Indigenous people. It was so hard to abide the claims to “shock” or any language around it being a “reminder” of a “sad chapter in Canada’s past”, or a “shameful legacy”. I was hearing new unpleasant stories my mum was remembering now, not in history. It’s all present, tense, and the reality for living people.
Many parents in the community shared about their little ones at different ages trying to process what they were hearing in the media; many said their kids insisted on sleeping with them again, were scared, uncontrollably sad. My own youngest was afraid of being “stolen” from me, and refused to get in an uber lest the driver take him away… then his brother called from the destination saying that he wasn’t comfortable with his brother alone in transit either and was coming to get him, just an awful, tearful day.
I need to rewind for a second: at the start of the pandemic, at the end of a long, bad relationship, I became a single parent. So I’d spent the duration like Mummy’s got this – I got the food – I got your appointments – I got you with your schoolwork, etc., to reassure them.
So at that time, as the “discoveries” piled up, I said over and over, You are safe at home with me. You are safe here. Nothing bad can happen while you’re home where you belong. So many times, a soft mantra at snuggle time. I meant it and believed it.
Stolen. That is what was stolen. Months of convincing him and months of progress towards that little person’s coming to feeling safe again. Our sanctuary was violated at the exact moment it could do the most damage… To remind you. You do not have a home. You belong nowhere. A bit close to the bone, even on a good day, for any “halfbreed” (also called “Road Allowance People”), but for me, the storm was too perfect, and I lost much progress I had made too.
Though I’ve been researching and writing in this field for years, I only now fully understand how experiencing a violent crime is never, ever just what and when it is: it extends so deep and so far, even thousands of years. Well, we have been here forever. And I will belong here again. We belong here.